Saturday, March 24

UCLA an integral part of Venice Family Clinic’s efforts to provide free healthcare

They remember the homeless man who had a heart attack, the woman frail from chemotherapy, the teenage boy who would soon be a father.

They remember listening to a baby’s heartbeat or running their fingers down a patient’s arm to test for TB. They remember quiet, slow recoveries.

The hundreds of UCLA faculty, residents and students who volunteer at the Venice Family Clinic inscribe these stories in medical files ““ and embed them in their memories.

“Every day is about little victories, and just being there for patients,” said Dr. Karen Lamp, medical director at the clinic. “Our patients get kind of abused every day in their lives.”

The clinic, which is based in Venice, offers free health services at nine sites, including three in Santa Monica.

About 75 percent of the patients are uninsured. Some are homeless, some are undocumented immigrants, and all make less than twice the poverty level income. And as the economy lags, more and more are coming.

Over the years, UCLA’s partnership with the clinic has given it the strength to accommodate more patients’ needs.

In the 1970s, UCLA helped establish the clinic by covering its malpractice insurance. The clinic later agreed to let UCLA train residents on their grounds, which allowed the university to fulfill its commitment to the community, said Dr. Alice Kuo, an associate professor of pediatrics, internal medicine and health services at UCLA.

Now all of the clinic’s permanent staff are UCLA employees, and the benefits that come along with that designation has helped attract and retain workers, Lamp said.

University faculty members also offer specialty services, such as giving mammograms, processing lab work and providing ultrasound readings.

These programs allow the clinic to act as a one-stop shop for many patients, who don’t have easy access to a doctor, dentist and various other health specialists.

A UCLA undergraduate group ““ Students for Community Outreach, Promotion and Education ““ expands the clinic’s care by treating non-medical issues patients may face.

“Someone might be having a health problem because they don’t have a job, or because of other sociological factors,” said Jennifer Nobe, a fourth-year psychobiology student and the organization’s co-chief coordinator.

The group connects patients with information on outside resources, whether it’s classes in speaking English or an after-school activity for their kids.

One teenager desperately needed a job. He was going to have a baby with his girlfriend, hadn’t told his parents about the pregnancy, and was searching for a way to support his child.

Nobe gave him a list of job agencies and training programs. When she called to check up on him a week later, she heard a happy voice on the other end ““ he’d found two jobs.

Catherine Hooper, a resident in the UCLA Medicine-Pediatrics program, moved to Southern California so she could train at a place that assists a marginalized population.

She’s passionate about her job ““ but on days when she starts to forget that her work makes a difference, she thinks of one patient.

He has a long chronicle of health issues, including diabetes, high blood pressure, substance abuse and depression. He also lives in a van, unable to afford his old apartment after breaking up with his girlfriend.

At first, he was skeptical of the clinic and only ended up there for a follow-up after a heart attack.

“He became more responsive because we’ve shown him that we really care,” Hooper said. “Now he is one of the most grateful patients I have ever treated. Every time he came in, he would thank me, thank the nurse, thank everyone.”

Koren Kordes, 36, said the clinic assisted her after she lost her job in the subprime crisis. No longer insured, she had to find more than $500 each month for insulin, blood glucose test strips and other prescriptions.

Now, on a Friday morning in September, she waits for her medicine in the clinic she’s come to appreciate.

“The staff is helpful and caring, knowledgeable and attentive,” Kordes said.

She admits things could be better ““ she had to wait weeks for an available appointment and ran out of medication. She doesn’t like the long duration of clinic appointments because she hates to miss time on her new job. She still pays for depression treatment at a UCLA hospital.

As its patients face tough times, so does the clinic. The dragging economy means that private donors are pulling out money.

UCLA, however, has maintained all its services at the clinic, Lamp said. And each day, volunteers from the university can be found all over the Westside, checking vitals, testing blood and helping those in need.

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