INDIO — Sharon Osceola of La Quinta arrived at the Riverside County Fairgrounds at 5 a.m. Friday to secure her place in queue of people seeking free medical, dental and vision care at the makeshift healthcare clinic.
At 9:30 a.m., the 37-year-old was sitting patiently for a spot in one of the 70 dental chairs. At least two years had lapsed since her last dental appointment.
Osceola said she did not mind the 4 ½-hour wait.
“I’m grateful for the services,” Osceola said. “It’s such a privilege.”
She planned to return today, Saturday, March 23 to take advantage of the medical and vision services offered at the healthcare clinic. Insurance is not provided at her place of employment she said.
More than 500 volunteer healthcare professionals from throughout California are providing free dental, vision and medical care this weekend to uninsured and underinsured individuals and families in the Coachella Valley area.
Martha Murillo and her daughter of Indio waited for vision tests. Each was also hoping for a medical appointment with either a chiropractor or an acupuncturist.
“It’s a big help, especially if you’re not working and cannot afford health insurance,” Murillo said of the healthcare clinic.
Laura Grabow, program director for the dental assistant program at Twentynine Palms High School, brought nine of her high school students and four of her adult students to volunteer at the healthcare clinic.
“It’s a great opportunity for the students to get practical, hands-on experience and help out the community,” Grabow said.
Alania Thomas, 17, a senior at Twentynine Palms High School, was one of those students.
“It’s actually going pretty good,” Thomas said. “I got to watch a doctor extract two teeth so far. That was pretty exciting. I like the practical experience.”
The free healthcare clinic runs through Sunday, March 24 at the Riverside County Fairgrounds. The professionals are projected to provide critical care for an anticipated 600-1,000 people per day. They had a good start on that Friday morning as they offered an assembly line of services: dental extractions, dental restoration, dental hygiene, dental triage, vision tests, chiropractic services, acupuncture, and a pharmacy that offered antibiotics, ibuprofen, Tylenol.
All services are free; clinic participants need no proof of insurance, employment, income, residency, immigration status or an ID to receive them.
In addition to the 70 dental chairs, the healthcare clinic offers 20 medical exam rooms and 10 vision lanes. A vision lab produces free prescription eyeglasses on-site. Dentistry includes x-rays, cleanings, fillings, and extractions in addition to partial dentures. Medical doctors are providing services ranging from consultation and diagnosis to minor medical procedures while nurses staff triage areas and provide medical assistance.
Some patients will walk out with new teeth – and a mile-wide smile. One volunteer described the healthcare clinic and what it does for people as “life-changing.”
“Since we first brought this clinic to the Coachella Valley in 2013, we have provided much-needed services to more than 11,000 patients, for a total value of health care services estimated at $4.5 million – all free to patients,” said Pamela Congdon, California CareForce Founder and Executive Director. “These patients are so grateful that somebody cares about them, especially since they are receiving medical services they would not be able to receive elsewhere.”
Wristbands for next-day services will be distributed at 4 p.m. today, Saturday, March 23. There may be limited first-come, first-serve spots available on clinic days (dependent on capacity). Patients are eligible for rides to/from the clinic on SunLine Transit Agency’s fixed route bus service. Details provided at wristband distribution.
- Free healthcare clinic in Indio: Cindy Uken