Click to view slideshow

Lawndale resident Eleanor Mateo came to Care Harbor Los Angeles – one of the largest free health clinics in the country – for the first time Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. She has Medi-Cal but no vision or dental insurance and she was going to get both her eyes and teeth checked. She hasn’t seen a dentist in 15 years.

“I am so grateful for all of this,” Mateo said. “It makes me want to cry. It’s so unbelievable. I’m so happy.”

Care Harbor LA, which ran Nov. 17-19, 2017 at The Reef in downtown Los Angeles, provided free medical, dental, vision and preventative care to an estimated 1,000 patients per day. Several Western University of Health Sciences faculty, staff and students volunteered their time to help provide this care.

Second-year College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP) student Brooke Atkinson said Friday she performed Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment on a patient, who responded, “This is the best I’ve felt in awhile.” Atkinson also volunteered at Care Harbor as a first-year student, where she mainly shadowed second-year students.

“I felt lost last year, so I feel a little more comfortable going through the physical exam this year,” she said. “This helps me remember why I’m doing this, instead of being in class all day. I think it’s awesome that we’re able to send our patients to all the care they need. I think it’s a really great event.”

If a patient does not have a primary care doctor, they are assigned a medical home before they leave Care Harbor, said COMP Assistant Dean of Clinical Education Natalie A. Nevins, DO, MSHPE, who serves as Care Harbor LA’s medical director. Every patient who needs mental health services will be seen while they are here.

“This is a unique event in that we are not just saying, ‘Have a nice day today and we don’t care what happens to you the rest of your life,’” Nevins said. “We want to bring them into our community and take care of them through our community partners, which are our free clinics and federally-qualified health centers.

“If any part of our world is suffering, then we are all suffering,” Nevins said. “Which means it is our responsibility. We are our brother’s and sister’s keepers. For those who are not fortunate enough to have all the services they need, our job is to uplift them to be equal to us, never below us. That is what we are here to do today and every day.”

WesternU’s College of Optometry co-led Care Harbor’s vision section. Artesia resident David Vasquez, 35, had his vision checked by WesternU students. He is uninsured and would not be able to get new prescription glasses without this event.

“It helps out more than they can possibly imagine,” Vasquez said. “Everyone is very friendly and very kind.”

Third-year College of Optometry student Ryan Lopez used a tonometer to measure interocular pressure and an autorefractor to take an estimate of patients’ prescriptions.

“It’s been really rewarding and really beneficial,” Lopez said. “We’re helping a lot of people and we’re getting a lot of experience at the same time. You meet people from all walks of life. It’s interesting to see where everyone comes from.”

The vision section had about 40 College of Optometry faculty, staff, students and alumni volunteering Friday morning. All patients attending Care Harbor who needed corrective lenses received free prescription glasses via VSP and K-Mars Optical.

“It’s a great experience for students because they’re doing full exams. They’re seeing a lot of patients and enhancing their skills,” said College of Optometry Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs Raymond Maeda, OD, FAAO. “More importantly, hopefully they will volunteer at more events like this when they’re out of school.”

The College of Podiatric Medicine had more than 25 students, faculty and residents scheduled to volunteer throughout the weekend, and the College of Allied Health Professions (CAHP) also had several volunteers, including CAHP Dean Stephanie Bowlin, EdD, PA, and CAHP Associate Dean of Assessment and Strategic Collaborations Tina Meyer, DHSc, PA-C.

CAHP students in the Physician Assistant Education program worked closely with medical students and faculty from COMP and UCLA to treat patients. COMP Assistant Professor Steven Lam, DO, MSHPE, explained to a group of PA students how to assess a patient’s musculoskeletal problems.

“In my program we haven’t gotten to that yet, so it’s nice to get exposed to it early,” said first-year MSPA student Jeslin Guzman. “There are so many people who don’t have access to these services. That’s why these events are important. I’m excited to be part of it.”

At the beginning of her morning shift, Meyer consulted with first-year COMP student Oscar Salaiz about a patient. Meyer said she has not been in clinical practice for a few years, focusing more on administrative duties in the college, so she enjoys this opportunity to treat patients and work with others in a clinical setting.

“It’s such a great, collegial experience. It brings us back to our roots to what medicine is all about, why most of us got into medicine in the first place,” Meyer said. “We didn’t get into it for the layers of bureaucracy. We got into it to be team players and to work on behalf of other people. It’s a little bit like coming home. We are getting back to doing what we all love to do.”