Western University of Health Sciences faculty and students are volunteering at one of the largest free health clinics in California.

Care Harbor/LA provides free medical, dental and vision care, prevention resources and follow-up care to thousands of uninsured, underinsured and at-risk individuals and families. The clinic started Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 and runs through Nov. 3 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in downtown Los Angeles. Click here to visit the website: http://careharbor.org/index.html

Several WesternU colleges have faculty and students scheduled to volunteer throughout the four-day event, including the College of Graduate Nursing, the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP), the College of Podiatric Medicine and the College of Optometry.

“It’s a good opportunity as a student to come and get clinical experience with patients, and at the same time help out in the community,” said third-year College of Podiatric Medicine student Bryan Levay, who volunteered Oct. 31 and planned to return during the weekend. “Care Harbor is receptive to podiatry. We get exposure to people in the community who might not get podiatric care outside of this program.”

Levay joined his classmates and CPM Assistant Professor of Podiatric Medicine Cristina Marchis-Crisan, MD, DPM, at Care Harbor/LA on Thursday.

“This is a great opportunity for the students to have hands-on experience because they see a variety of pathology here,” Marchis-Crisan said. “On the other hand, we also give something to the community they otherwise might not have been able to reach because of their location or income. So in this way, those who do not have money can still have access to foot care.”

Providing podiatric medical care at Care Harbor/LA is important because podiatrists discover underlying pathology that patients probably are not aware of, Marchis-Crisan said.

“We educate them on why they have the symptoms they do, and how to treat them or prevent them. It’s a great way of helping people around us and improving their health status,” she said. “It’s also a nice way to interact with people, to make them feel that we care about them. They know we’re here for them.”

Bellflower resident Sharon Cage said she came to Care Harbor/LA because her tooth was cutting into her gum, and she had foot pain. She received dental care, and the CPM students told her she has an arch problem. They recommended arch supports for her feet.

“I felt like these students really want to be doctors,” Cage said. “I really felt they were very interested in what they were doing because they were asking questions with one another. That means they want to learn. They’re interested in you. They care about their patients. I really did feel that.”

Care Harbor is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that helps uninsured and underserved populations by organizing large-scale free urban health clinics. Care Harbor estimates the Los Angeles clinic will provide care to about 1,000 patients each day.

Last year’s clinic provided free services to 3,758 patients, and more than 1,000 of them were connected to medical homes for continuing care, including free surgeries, according to Care Harbor. More than 6,000 medical, 5,000 dental and 3,000 vision services were provided.

“All told, we gave out $2.1 million in free care for patients who attended, and I think this year we’re going to exceed that performance,” said Don Manelli, president and founder of Care Harbor. “This event happens at the threshold of Affordable Care (Act implementation) in America. What is going to happen in this building is health care history. You’re going to have under one roof at one time the patients, the providers and the programs that put them together. People are going to leave here with something changed in their life in terms of health care.”

In addition to receiving needed health care services, Care Harbor/LA will provide health insurance education and signups.

“As part of our vision we are transforming these visits from temporary care to sustainable care,” Manelli said. “We’re not giving temporary care. People are having their immediate needs met, we’re teaching them to live healthier lives, we’re taking care of the follow-up and now we’re getting them into programs that will continue to give them that care so they’re not here in line next year.”

COMP Assistant Professor of Family Medicine Steven Lam, DO, MSHPE, saw patients Thursday morning at Care Harbor/LA.

“As faculty, we are role models for students, so when we come out they see that the school has connections to the community and that faculty are actually doing things they preach and not just talking about it in a classroom,” Lam said. “This reminds students of one of the reasons why they went to medical school in the first place. If they’re in class the whole two years they tend to forget. This is a reminder for service and the connection to the community.”