Free Health Clinic Lures Hundreds in L.A.

remote area medical
12 August 2009- Inglewood, California- Barbara Rees receives free vision care during Remote Area Medical (RAM) at the Forum in Inglewood, California. RAM provided over 10,000 patients with free medical, dental and vision services to patients in Los Angeles no questions asked, first come, first served. Photo Credit: Krista Kennell/Sipa Press. /RAMhealth.014/0908130109 (Sipa via AP Images)
Sipa via AP Images

People from all around Los Angeles have been lining up around the clock since Monday - waiting, hoping to get free medical care as CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports.

Some 1,500 people a day - many working poor, almost all with little or no health insurance - file into L.A.'s cavernous Forum to see hundreds of doctors, dentists, and optometrists. All of these medical professionals are volunteers. All of these people are in need.

Larry Durst's disability check won't cover the glasses he needs. He says without this clinic he would suffer and go without.

Kenya Smith needs a checkup for two-week-old Zoe. Her insurance doesn't cover it.

"They wanted $1,500 for just to be seen by the doctor plus co-payments. That was a lot of money I thought," she said.

Anna Garcia got in line Tuesday for dental work. She works for Orange County, has five children, and her husband is out of work. The co-pay for three year old Aizza's root canal: $1,000.

"I couldn't afford it and I didn't want her to lose her teeth. So I once read about this program, and I had to take advantage of it, even if it meant missing a couple of days of work," she said.

The program is run by Remote Area Medical, a non-profit group established 24 years ago to take modern medicine to the third world. Today they do some 40 multi-day free clinics a year - 65 percent of them now in the U.S.

"There are about 49 million people who don't have access to the care they need. They simply can't afford it," says Stan Brock, founder of Remote Area Medical.

Family physician Natalie Nevins has worked in villages in India and Africa and says there's as much need here, as in remote areas of India.

"Most of these people work. They have jobs," she says. "But they work for small companies who can't afford to give them insurance. Or they work three or four part time jobs so they don't qualify for health insurance."

For doctors and patients here the shouting over health care reform is incomprehensible.

Sutina Green works for the city of Long Beach. She could be speaking for every patient here, saying, "I have five children and I'm a single mother. For me, this was a blessing."