April 29, 2010

This is just so sad. There really, honestly aren't enough California doctors to volunteer for this all-too-needed program?

By 11 a.m. Wednesday all appointments to a massive weeklong free health clinic were gone. Those left in line were turned away.

With more than 1,000 people waiting outside Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, organizers realized early that demand would exceed availability.

Instead of 1,200 wristbands to distribute as they originally said, volunteers were left with only 750. The lower number was the result of significant overflow on the clinic's first day.

Despite staying open until 8 p.m., two hours later than scheduled, organizers said by day's end they had to ask 630 people to come back later for additional services.

Stan Brock, who founded the nonprofit Remote Area Medical, which organized the clinic, said a shortage of volunteers, particularly dentists, caused the overflow. Although the clinic has 94 dental chairs, Brock said 20 were empty much of Tuesday.

And even fewer dentists signed up to volunteer Wednesday and Thursday, he said. The experience on the first day raised questions about whether the clinic can meet its daily goal of serving 1,200 patients.

Brock said the shortage of volunteers highlights the importance of pending state legislation that would allow out-of-state doctors to volunteer at the clinic.

"That is absolutely vital," he said. "I could have recruited another 20 or 30 volunteers and you know they're going to be here because they buy the airfare and take time off."

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