MEDIA
09/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Los Angeles Free Clinic Offers Portrait Of Today's Dysfunctional Health Care

While the media is busy at assaying the ever-shifting political calculus over health care -- who's up, who's down? -- it's worth remembering that actual people are actually struggling to fill their actual healthcare needs. Over at The Awl, Natasha Vargas-Cooper puts a human face on the way many Los Angelenos are currently receiving their health care.

Splayed out on a show floor generally reserved for millionaire athletes and rock bands are: a hundred dental chairs; five RVs filled with X-ray equipment; mammogram machines; a 60-person triage station; rubber gloved paramedics; long picnic tables of surgical equipment; and about 1,000 recipients of free healthcare. Since last Tuesday and until tomorrow, the Forum in Inglewood is the biggest free healthcare clinic in Los Angeles. The bill will be picked up by the Remote Area Medical Expedition, a 1,300-person volunteer effort of medical professionals. RAM got their start treating villagers in the Amazon in 1985. Now they have ventured to the first world--their first time treating patients in Los Angeles.

This is what passes for the "public option," circa today.

The majority of people came to get their teeth fixed. During the first two days of service, RAM dentists have put in 947 fillings.

Dawna and I sat in the bleachers of the Forum. She is small woman with a nut-colored tan and sun-bleached hair. Dawna was about to be the 425th dental patient seen today. Dawna "was conceived on Venice beach" and currently lives in her van by the Venice boardwalk. She has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety. She takes her meals at a shelter. She can no longer chew food because of impacted incisors. Ten years ago, however, Dawna worked as a home health in aide in Texas and Alaska.

"When I eat," Dawna said, her hands clutching her jaw, "my gums bleed. I'm in pain all the time." She tells me that she hopes that the dentist will just pull her front row of teeth out.

They will. Crowns, caps, and fillings are expensive procedures that require follow-up, which patients can't afford. Most the dentists working on the floor are going to yank a bad tooth rather than try to restore it. By Saturday morning, RAM dentists had removed 471 teeth.

These limited health care practices -- quick instead of comprehensive, crude instead of restorative -- are, for many Americans, the only ones available. Brought to you by the RAM Free Clinic, occasionally providing America with the finest health care available in the third world since 2009.

MORE:
At the Forum: the Los Angeles Field Hospital [The Awl]

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