Gary Dion climbed aboard a long, sleek van one recent morning and emerged minutes later with a bandaged finger, a little less blood in his veins and a big smile.
The 55-year-old special-effects supervisor who works on the hit show "Bones" said he's been feeling a little weak lately and wanted to know why. So when he heard that the Motion Picture & Television Fund's mobile health clinic was stopping at Fox Studios in Century City where he works, he signed up for the chance for a physical, a blood test and an examination of a smashed-up finger.
"These guys are a blessing," said Dion, who once led the roller skating dance crew in the 1980 movie "Xanadu." "I didn't have to get in my car and drive to see a doctor."
Four times a week, the medical clinic on wheels parks and rolls out the red carpet inside five different studio lots across Los Angeles for the men and women who spend 14-hour days working behind the scenes on Hollywood's biggest movies and TV shows.
Health Wheels is an extension of the MPTF mission to provide health and social services to the people who are the backbone of Hollywood, from camera operators and set designers to grips and sound editors, as well as all those whose hectic schedules rarely allow them to visit doctors off the lots.
"The idea is if you can't get off the lot, we'll get to the lot," said Karen Vock, project manager for Health Wheels.
Supported by the First Entertainment Credit Union and Entertainment Partners as well as a fundraiser called Heartbeat of Hollywood, the MPTF's Health Wheels rolled out in 2011 and has served 2,000 people, Vock said. The services are not free -- fees are billed to insurance companies like any other clinic, though if patients come in without insurance staffers do work to try to help find them coverage.
The 30-foot vehicle includes an examination room, a full bathroom and a nurse's station and is equipped for a doctor to do everything from skin biopsies to pap tests to blood work.
"We have to do everything in a MASH environment," said Luciana Cordero, the licensed vocational nurse on board who also drives the mobile clinic. She was referring to the Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals used in combat areas. Cordero said her husband is a driver for many of the studios, so she's familiar with the ailments that come with long hours.
Stress-related illnesses and chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure are common among the workers she sees.
"We see a lot of aches and pains, anxiety and depression," Cordero said.
Fainting spells are common as well, said Dr. Aarti Madan, who steps in for regular physician Dr. Dennis Green.
"Grips and gaffers have a lot of repetitive hand motion," she said.
And ear wax build-up. Because many workers use ear plugs on set, wax accumulates and causes pain and hearing problems.
Craig Renwick, a 55-year-old South Pasadena resident who works on music licensing for the TV shows "Bones," "Modern Family" and "How I Met Your Mother," said he welcomes the convenience of Health Wheels. During the busy TV season, he can barely get away.
"These guys are the best," he said, after Madan inspected his hand for trigger finger, in which the tendons can lock up.
The MPTF was founded by film pioneers Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith in 1921 with donations they collected from putting out tin cans.
Back then, they called the effort the Motion Picture Relief Fund, and their motto was "Taking Care of Our Own."
That collection of loose change eventually helped the fund evolve into a sprawling 40-acre campus in Woodland Hills that includes cottage residences and other health-care and recreational services, as well as clinics across the county.
In 2009, the landmark nursing home and hospital was set to be closed because of an anticipated $10 million-per-year shortfall. Services had been gradually reduced and patients were transferred to other facilities. After protests, criticism, and threats of lawsuits, the MPTF Foundation last year launched a $350 million fundraising campaign which drew donations from George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Tom Cruise, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg among others.
Dion, who had a full physical inside the mobile unit, said his father Walter Dion also was a well-known special-effects man and a lifelong member of the MPTF.
"They're like family," Dion said of the MPTF. "I was born with these guys and I'll croak with 'em.' "
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