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WesternU supports Care Harbor LA, the largest urban free clinic in the nation

by Rodney Tanaka

September 24, 2012

Read 3 mins

Western University of Health Sciences is contributing its support and the skilled hands of its faculty and students to Care Harbor LA, the largest free health clinic of its kind.

Care Harbor LA is a four-day clinic offering medical, vision and dental care at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, running Sept. 27-30, 2012. Services will include free dental cleanings, fillings, extractions, root canals, eye exams, refractions, prescription glasses, medical exams and evaluations, podiatric evaluations, women’s health, screenings and immunizations.

Faculty and students from several WesternU programs will volunteer their services, including the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP), the College of Podiatric Medicine, the College of Graduate Nursing, the College of Pharmacy, the College of Dental Medicine and the College of Allied Health Professions.

“These events were created to get people hooked into care,” said Care Harbor medical director Natalie Nevins, DO. “It’s important for them to have a medical home.”

Nevins, a COMP alumna and associate clinical professor, is founder and CEO of Amrit Davaa World Health Corp. (AD+ World Health), a nonprofit dedicated to providing sustainable humanitarian aid, health and wellness education and health care to children and families in need by designing, building and sustaining permanent health care facilities globally.

“I don’t believe in Band-Aid care,” Nevins said. “That is the reason why AD+ World Health creates sustainable clinics, providing accessible health care regardless of someone’s ability to pay. There are a lot of people who need care, or don’t recognize they could have access to care.”

Care Harbor event organizers work with the local safety net – clinics, hospitals and private practices – to arrange follow-up care for patients. Last year’s event provided free dental, vision and medical care to nearly 4,000 patients, and more than 1,000 of them were connected to medical homes before leaving the event.

“Follow-up care is essential,” said Care Harbor President Don Manelli. “It’s a temporary clinic, but it can’t be temporary care. This year we’re going to have about 85 clinics accepting our patients.”

Those who need follow-up care will schedule an appointment before leaving the building, and their electronic health record will be forwarded to the follow-up clinic so care is continuous and tests aren’t needlessly repeated.

While at Care Harbor LA, patients will be given a number rather than waiting in line. This will give them the opportunity to visit more than 30 exhibits and talk with various agencies offering counseling and education on wellness, prevention and self-care.

“Prevention is the most cost-effective form of health care,” Manelli said. “Dental is a good example. Probably 90 percent of what we see in the dental clinic is preventable if they took better care of their teeth. We have a preventative dental section where patients will receive instruction, oral hygiene kits and a fluoride varnish treatment.”

WesternU College of Podiatric Medicine Assistant Professor Rebecca Moellmer, DPM, participated in a precursor to Care Harbor and is looking forward to taking students this year.

“People really need care, and it’s really nice to provide that for them,” she said. “A lot of people don’t have access. It’s a good learning experience.”

More than 30 percent of Americans earning less than $36,000 annually were uninsured. As of December 2011, 17.7 percent of adult Americans had no health insurance, the highest number on record. Los Angeles County has about 2.2 million uninsured. About 1.6 million Los Angeles County residents cannot afford to see a dentist.

“When you put a face on those numbers, it’s not who you expect,” Manelli said. “If you lose a job, you lose your insurance. When you go to these events, you see a broad demographic.”

Participating in this event will be valuable to WesternU students and others who are volunteering, Nevins said.

“I think it’s important for all physicians, especially students, to learn what service means now,” she said. “If any part of our world is suffering, we all are suffering. It gets them to see how much need is out there with their own eyes.”

Nevins represents the very best part of what the Care Harbor organization and clinic is about, Manelli said. She and the other care coordinators are the engine that drives this event. And those who volunteer at the clinic will work hard but also find great rewards.

“This is as close as you’re going to be to the reason you went to medical school,” Manelli said. “You’re not filling out insurance forms. It’s the patient and nothing else, somebody whose life might depend on the skills you have.”

For more information, please visit the Care Harbor website:

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