Residents Wait Hours for Free Medical Care

Apr. 2, 2012 / By

After five hours, Omar Garcia, 6, is checked by volunteer dentists at The Flying Doctors mobile medical clinic March 31 in Thermal. This photograph was taken before Omar had an abcess tooth removed. (PHOTO: Ivan Delgado/Coachella Unincorporated)

By Ivan Delgado, Johnny Flores Jr., and Santos Reyes
Coachella Unincorporated

Thermal, Calif. – Lorena Lopez arrived at Desert Mirage High School in the dark of night in hopes of being among the first treated at The Flying Doctors mobile clinic on March 31.

Throbbing tooth pain left the 40-year-old Thermal resident with no other choice but to take her place in the already long line.

“I don’t have health insurance and I don’t have enough money to go to the dentist,” she said in Spanish.

Nearly seven hours later, Lopez sat down in a makeshift dentist chair while a volunteer dentist removed the tooth decay and cleaned up the infection causing her pain.

A doctor specializing in emergency medicine, Dr. Raul Ruiz was one of many local doctors who joined The Flying Doctors in providing medical care for Eastern Coachella Valley residents.

While Ruiz believes The Flying Doctors is important for this medically underserved community, he is concerned that so many families must stand in line for hours on end to see a doctor.

“I saw a mother and her child camped out in a van,” said Ruiz. “An event like this reminds us to find a better solution. It makes us ask, ‘Who are we as a community?’”

Coachella resident Victoria Hernandez took her place in line at 4 a.m. Her six-year-old grandson, Omar Garcia, was suffering from unbearable tooth pain.

At approximately 9 a.m., Hernandez was informed by dentists that the pain was being caused by an abscess beneath Omar’s teeth.  The infected tooth would need to be removed immediately to prevent his gums from being affected. But young Omar first had to endure painful oral injections of local anesthesia.

“Medical care is unaffordable,” added Ruiz, “and California has one of the highest unemployment rates.”

Ruiz saw various health effects of the working class, including diabetes, at The Flying Doctors clinic. He also treated a patient with shingles, which is a painful type of rash that is contagious.

Ruiz, a democrat who grew up in Coachella, is running for Congress against republican incumbent Mary Bono-Mack.

“We as a community in the Eastern Coachella Valley lack in resources,” said Lucy Moreno, community health outreach program coordinator for Clínicas de Salud del Pueblo. “This event is put on so that those desperately-needed resources are brought to those who are in desperate need.”

The Flying Doctors, or Los Médicos Voladores in Spanish, is a volunteer-based nonprofit organization that aims to improve the health and well being of geographically diverse people through education and the provision of no-cost, high quality medical, dental and optometry services. This group of volunteers serves Mexico, Central and South America, and migrant labor populations in the South Eastern regions of California.

“Until a health care reform is completed than an event like this is a necessity,” said Moreno.

The Flying Doctors will return to the Eastern Coachella Valley this fall.

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Coachella Unincorporated

Coachella Unincorporated is a Youth Media Startup in the East Coachella Valley, funded by the Building Healthy Communities Initiative of The California Endowment and operated by New America Media in San Francisco. The purpose of the project is to report on issues in the community that can bring about change. Coachella Unincorporated refers to the region youth journalists cover but also to the unincorporated communities of the Eastern Valley with the idea to “incorporate” the East Valley into the mainstream Coachella Valley mindset.