Will Hillary Be Able to Take Care of Edith and Mary?


“Hillary should see this!” says Fern Seizer, sitting near a window overlooking a slightly unsavory stretch of Rose Avenue in Venice. We are talking about the American health-care crisis and the role that free clinics such as hers play in easing the woes of the approximately 35 million Americans who have no health insurance.

“This is a model of a program serving the neediest people, the people who fall through the cracks,” says Seizer, executive director of the Venice Family Clinic. “They are happy; it is cost-effective. All the community resources are brought together and it’s not bureaucratic.”

For the record:

12:00 a.m. May 17, 1993 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday May 17, 1993 Home Edition View Part E Page 2 Column 1 View Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Art Walk Dates--The days of the Venice Art Walk were incorrectly reported in Robin Abcarian’s Wednesday column. The walk will be held Saturday and Sunday. For information, call (310) 392-WALK.

It’s also not your typical low-budget clinic. From humble beginnings 23 years ago in a pair of rented rooms, the clinic now serves more than 10,000 patients who make 50,000 visits a year. Now those patients come to an ultramodern two-story building.


Patients wait to be called in an airy front room with an elegant wood reception area. Pregnant women, middle-age men, unsteady toddlers, the working poor, the indigent, the homeless--all are welcome. For most, this is the only alternative to the county hospital or the emergency room.

One of the nicest things about the clinic, many will say, is that they wait no longer than they would in the office of a private doctor. Another, they add, is that no one makes them feel poor. Dignity is high on the list of services this clinic provides.

Mary Luzarreta can’t talk knowledgeably about the American health-care crisis, but she can sure tell you about her own.

Ten years ago, at 57, she had no health insurance and her diabetes was out of control. “I was unable to walk,” she says. “I was really at the end, very depressed. Then I met somebody in my building who told me about the Venice Family Clinic. It was like an answer to my prayers.”

Likewise, what Edith Hernandez knows about the dismal state of health coverage in this country is that she cannot afford the $100 a month it takes to insure her family. A 30-year-old hotel housekeeper with three children, Hernandez earns too much to qualify for Medi-Cal. As a result, she relies on the clinic for care.

Recently, she came to the facility complaining of breast pain. She was sent to another health facility for a free mammogram.


People like Hernandez, says Seizer, represent American medicine’s “great unmet need.”

“If you are adult poor and you own something of value, you can’t qualify for Medi-Cal. If you work and you earn too much, you can’t qualify. Eighty-five percent of our patients here can’t qualify for Medi-Cal and don’t have any insurance.”

Even people who qualify for Medi-Cal have to be pretty motivated to get it, Seizer says. To help steer patients through the application process, the county has recently begun sending a Medi-Cal eligibility worker to the clinic twice a week, but because of the high volume of applicants, it hardly makes a dent.


In addition to its staff of about 100, the Venice Family Clinic has a staggering list of volunteers, from surgeons to social workers. Last year, more than 700 professionals donated time.

Volunteer pediatrician Earl Rubell, who practiced for 27 years in Encino, sees patients four days a week. He arrived at the clinic three years ago, after growing bored with a retirement spent sailing up and down the Pacific Coast.

“You can only take so many palm trees,” he says.

Caring for poor patients, most of whom don’t speak English, has been more fun than sailing, and a different sort of challenge.

“Here, I have to worry about whether people are going to be able to do what we ask them,” he says. “I had a homeless kid with a 105-degree temperature. I told the mother she needed to give this kid extra fluids and cool baths.


“The mother said, ‘How are we gonna do that? We sleep on the floor at the shelter.’ ”

Rubell wrote a letter to the shelter, asking that the family be given a room with a bed and access to baths.

“In Encino, you would never worry about that,” says Rubell. “If Mama couldn’t do it, the maid would.”


Even the maid will have insurance if the Clinton Administration comes up with a workable plan for health care that includes the great puddle of people at the bottom of the economic ladder.

“Free clinics like ours would love to go out of business as charity-care providers,” Seizer told a House subcommittee last month. “We’d like to be in business as community-based partners providing primary care in a rational, efficient and effective system of universal health care.”

Until that comes to pass, the clinic’s volunteers work to raise the $4 million cash and $2 million in-kind services it takes to run the clinic annually. (About 30% of the budget comes from government sources; the rest comes from foundations and private donations.)

Fund raising is never easy, and these days it’s especially hard. Helping the clinic in its quest for dollars is its excellent reputation, and the cachet it has achieved as a pet charity in its eclectic community. Entertainers and artists serve on its boards.


The clinic can usually count on raising about half a million dollars during Art Walk, this weekend’s annual event that allows people to meet Venice artists and peek inside their studios. But this year, ticket sales, like the economy, have been weak. And that could be bad news for the clinic’s patients.

Seizer argues persuasively that such a state of affairs is ludicrous, that health care is a basic right, that it should be paid for by the government.

Soon, we will learn whether Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband’s Administration will revolutionize health care in this country.

For the first time, it seems possible that one day people like Mary Luzarreta and Edith Hernandez will not have to depend on the kindness of art-loving strangers for first-rate care.