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Patricia Sulpizio: L.A. county health care sadly deficient

Posted: September 21, 2009 9:54 p.m.
Updated: September 22, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Watching a "60 Minutes" segment in March on the Remote Area Volunteer Medical Corp greatly moved me. I researched RAM for my summer communications class at College of the Canyons.

Learning about this altruistic, invaluable group of caring individuals and medical professionals inspired me.

When I heard RAM was coming to Los Angeles, I drove to the Inglewood Forum to volunteer. It was an incredible experience.

Since 1985, RAM has provided free medical care to rural America and Guyana.

The Inglewood "expedition" was the first time RAM served a metropolitan area and RAM L.A. was the largest.

People waited night and day for treatment. The line of cars to the parking lot was so long police had to direct traffic.

In eight days, 6,344 people received 14,561 free medical services valued at $2,821,383.00.

Dentists performed 1,889 cleanings, 2,274 extractions, 5,438 fillings and 90 root canals on 3,182 patients.

Optometrists gave 2,266 eye exams. There were 1,984 pairs of eyeglasses made and fitted on site.

Physicians provided 8,775 medical services including 650 Pap smears, 338 mammograms, 706 immunizations and 1,585 acupuncture treatments.

Unfortunately, many were turned away when the number of patients exceeded RAM's capacity.

The operation was a finely tuned machine. I was put to work on dental instruments and was quickly trained by capable volunteers on a sterilization assembly line.

We scrubbed, rinsed, sanitized and autoclaved dental tools. RAM's 100 dental chairs could accommodate 700 patients a day.

Sadly, rows of modern dental chairs sat empty due to a shortage of volunteer dentists.

The same situation existed in the medical and vision care areas.

Twenty eye exam stations could accommodate 650 patients per day; but alas they lacked the necessary number of optical professionals, and so on, for the medical area.

RAM founder Stan Brock reported they could have provided 50 percent more procedures with more medical professionals. RAM could have used medical practitioners from other states, but like most states, a medical practitioner must be licensed here in order to practice here.

RAM pleaded with Governor Schwarzenegger to allow out-of-state practitioners to volunteer for RAM L.A. but Schwarzenegger refused.

On Aug. 28, "The Tidings," Southern California's Catholic weekly newspaper, wrote: "Where in the world do you have this much need?"

Tragically, the answer is right here in Los Angeles County.

If you're sitting in Santa Clarita thinking, "Not in my backyard," consider the case of Sherryan', from Saugus. Sherryan' spent four days at RAM receiving care for herself and her daughters.

Sherryan's older daughter was treated for an ear infection, given eyeglasses and dental care including two fillings, one extraction and a cleaning.

Sherryan' said several dentists consulted on the best method to save one of her little girl's teeth.

Her younger daughter received glasses, dental cleaning and four fillings.

Sherryan' got eyeglasses and extensive dental work, was fitted for a partial dental appliance to cover two missing front teeth and was given a referral to complete her dental care.

Sherryan' is thrilled she can smile again and her girls will go back to school with corrected vision. She was so grateful and so impressed with RAM, she returned to volunteer.

If you're thinking Sherryan' is a welfare mother, you are mistaken. They are homeowners, and her husband is a small business owner. Their income barely sustains the family.

Private medical insurance quotes shocked them. They faced totally unaffordable plans with high deductibles that were not comprehensive, and provided no vision, dental or maternity care.

It's ironic that Governor Schwarzenegger can rightly declare a state of emergency for fire or flood, but would not issue a waiver for emergency health care in our state or county. It cost the state nothing for RAM to provide all the medical services at RAM L.A.

There was no risk of out-of-state practitioners competing with California medical professionals because the waiver would have only covered volunteers for the limited time that RAM was here.

Schwarzenegger's cold denial of Californians suffering from lack of health care was senseless.

The majority of patients was working poor. RAM volunteers urged us to call Schwarzenegger about the waiver.

The RAM experience was absolute proof of the crisis state of Los Angeles County health care. RAM cannot provide on-going care for our residents.

It's obvious that our country's health care system is woefully unable to provide basic health care to all its citizens.

It's also just as obvious that a robust public option is the only way to bring down health insurance costs and bring our county in line with other industrialized nations.

Our country's health depends on the health of its citizens.

Patricia Sulpizio is a Valencia resident and delegate to the California Democratic Party. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Democratic Voices" appears Tuesdays in The Signal and rotates among local Democratic writers.


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