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Free health clinic draws 1,500 seeking dental and medical assistance

Dental hygienist Michael Laflamme, right, of San Francisco, is hugged by patient Joanna Ruiz of Elk Grove after he gave her a deep teeth cleaning at the California Careforce event in Sacramento, Calif., on Sun., Sept. 24, 2017. “He took care of me and put my fears at rest,” said Ruiz who was thankful for the free healthcare clinic.
Dental hygienist Michael Laflamme, right, of San Francisco, is hugged by patient Joanna Ruiz of Elk Grove after he gave her a deep teeth cleaning at the California Careforce event in Sacramento, Calif., on Sun., Sept. 24, 2017. “He took care of me and put my fears at rest,” said Ruiz who was thankful for the free healthcare clinic. rbyer@sacbee.com

Alvarado Jimenez, 10, came to California CareForce’s free health clinic at Cal Expo on Sunday with his mother, Maria Torres, because one of his molars had been hurting him for a few weeks. A dentist had to pull the tooth and Jimenez later opened his mouth and pointed to the wad of gauze that now filled the gap.

“It hurt, but I feel better now,” he said.

Jimenez was one of 1,500 people who visited the clinic over the weekend to get medical, dental and vision care they either don’t have access to or can’t afford.

Without insurance, “a clinic like this is so good, so nice,” Torres said, smiling.

While the number of uninsured Californians has decreased from 8.6 percent to 7.3 percent in 2016, according to U.S. Census figures, millions still can’t afford health insurance or the costly copayments and deductibles that come with their policies.

At the California CareForce clinic, about half reported having no insurance, 20 percent said their insurance didn’t cover their needs and 10 percent were insured but couldn’t afford the cost of their deductible.

“People earning minimum wage and other low-income people are going to pay for their kid’s soccer uniform or pay for their washing machine to get fixed, and not pay to get their teeth cleaned,” said California CareForce Executive Director Pamela Congdon.

“There are young, working families here, people who work jobs you see every day,” said Tom Burley, program manager for California CareForce. “They’re everyday people who are coming here because of that lack of access to care. There are cracks in the health care system, but with our volunteers we can help fill some of those cracks.”

Medical staff from across California volunteered Friday through Sunday, offering physical exams, flu shots, acupuncture, massages, teeth cleanings, tooth fillings and extractions, eye exams and prescription glasses.

Walter Robb, 64, an Army veteran who is insured by Veterans Affairs, came to the clinic to get a new pair of glasses. He got up at 3:30 a.m. Sunday to catch a paratransit bus to the clinic.

Robb lost his last pair of glasses when he accidentally rolled over them with his electric wheelchair, he said. He’s been using reading glasses to get by because his insurance wouldn’t cover the cost of another pair.

At the weekend clinic, he got an eye exam, picked out his frames and received his new pair of glasses all in the same day.

“I can see really well now and it’s fabulous,” Robb said.

Robb also wanted to get his teeth cleaned because he said he hasn’t had access to a dentist since he was laid off from his job as a laser technician in 2012. But volunteers were unable to move Robb from his electric wheelchair to the dental chair.

“So the dentist brought the tools to (Robb),” Burley said. “They tilted his wheelchair back and served him there.”

Another patient, Robin Brown-Thomas, 56, brought her cat, Golden Brown, in his kennel and sat next to him as she waited to get her new glasses. She said she is insured through Medi-Cal but it wouldn’t pay for her glasses.

“I got two pairs. One for reading and one for seeing,” she said.

Congdon said her organization plans to open another free California CareForce clinic in 2018, but does not have the dates set yet.

Molly Sullivan: 916-321-1176, @SullivanMollyM

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