Patricia Hopkins and Kevin Singleton arrived at the Los Angeles Sports Arena Wednesday morning, a full 28 hours before CareNow LA's free health clinic opened on Thursday morning.
After camping out in front of the arena, the two were the first in line for the enter the massive clinic, which offers free check-up and consultations from volunteer doctors, dentists, optometrists, and other medical professionals. Five thousand people are expected to attend the four-day event, which is put on by CareNow, a nonprofit urban healthcare organization, to help those in the area who do not have access to healthcare.
Hopkins came to last year's clinic - which treated 6,000 people - but was turned away after too many people showed up. This time she showed up extra early to make sure she recieved a neon-green wristband that would let her into the clinic.
Hopkins, who has trouble walking, plans to visit all the services provided at the clinic: dental care, eye exams, and health check-ups.
"I'm gonna take advantage of this," said Hopkins, "Even though I got Medicare, you're only allowed to get so many prescriptions per month.
Hundreds were in line behind Hopkins and Singleton by 6 a.m. on Thursday morning. Some brought doughnuts, radios, cigarettes, and coffee to pass the time before the doors opened.
Tensions rose slightly as people cut in and out of line. "When we woke up this morning there were three people who tried to cut in front of us," said Hopkins, "my legs are bad, but you should have seen me jump up."
Singleton was sympathetic though: "People are desperate," he said, relating a story of a friend who hit his head and passed away because he wasn't able to get an ambulance.
The volunteers began arriving as early as 4 a.m., and included groups from the L.A. Buddhist center, university medical students, and other local organizations. "We're volunteering to help underprivileged people get the services they need," said Brittany Nooles, who came with a group of volunteer medical assistants.
The people waiting in line cheered as the volunteers arrived, many grateful for the time and money the medical professionals were giving up to help them. "Anytime you got free medical treatment, you can't do nothing but appreciate it," said Hopkins.
Once the doors opened, patients visited a triage table, where dozens of nurses checked blood pressure and other vital signs. From there, patients could go to different sections of the arena for care. One station had computers set up so patients consult medical records and speak with health counselors about wellness and disease prevention. Patients with eye problems could visit mobile vision centers in RVs parked along the edges of the arena. In the center of the arena, a dental center was set up for cleanings, fillings, and extractions. Around the arena, patients could also get mammograms, screenings, and immunizations.
Beyond basic care, volunteers do not have the time or resources to do much more, but CareNow President Don Manelli told the Los Angeles Times that they connect patients to local clinics for follow-up.
Hopkins and Singleton's long wait paid off, as they were the first to receive medical attention at the triage center.
"This is a dream come true," Hopkins said with a smile.