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ARLETA : Free Quake-Proofing Provided for Clinics

On Jan. 17, the rolling ground turned many area health clinics into scenes of destruction: File cabinets fell over, medical records spilled out of shelves and medicine bottles smashed on the floor.

A public-private partnership has created a new program to earthquake-proof the interiors of community clinics throughout the city for free. Many clinics, whose role in providing medical services to low-income residents became even more crucial after the quake, cannot afford to have their furniture and medical equipment bolted or strapped down.

The program helps low-income neighborhoods not only by safeguarding the contents of clinics; it also provides jobs. The work is done by participants in a federally funded jobs program for young adults who were economically displaced by the quake, the California Conservation Corps’ Northridge Earthquake Recovery Corps.

On Wednesday, El Proyecto del Barrio’s family health clinic in Arleta was a beehive of activity as a seven-member crew of technicians bolted file cabinets to walls, strapped computers to desks and strung retaining cords along shelves housing medical records.

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In a mini-laboratory, Edward Morton of Pasadena fastened a microscope to a “leash” that was bolted to the wall. That way, he explained, the microscope can be freely moved around the counter, but won’t fall off in a quake. Morton said he planned to affix roughened pads to the bottom of a centrifuge, to keep it from sliding during seismic activity.

Morton lost his job as a packer for a packaging and handling company when the earthquake closed the business.

“I felt desperate,” he says of that time. “You’re looking, marketing yourself. This (program) was almost impossible to believe. ‘That place is giving away jobs.’ As soon as I heard about it I was there.”

Pacoima resident Christina Diaz, a former receptionist, was in a financial bind when the Glendale insurance office where she worked had to be remodeled after the earthquake. Unable to wait, she visited the state Employment Development Department office in San Fernando, which told her about the Recovery Corps. As a quake-proofing technician, she makes an hourly wage of $7, $2.75 more per hour than she was making before.

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The program was initiated when Operation USA, a nonprofit, Los-Angeles-based relief agency, asked the Conservation Corps whether it could provide the workers to do the bolting and securing work. The corps, which had recently received a $2.1-million grant from the Department of Labor to establish a jobs program for quake-displaced workers, accepted. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided the crew with on-site supervisors, who were trained by the state Office of Emergency Services.

The seven-member crew that worked on the El Proyecto clinic was selected based on their skills from the 75 participants in the six-month Recovery Corps program. The team has already finished quake-proofing three clinics in the Valley and Hollywood, and is scheduled to complete work on 22 more by the end of November.

Corrie Alvarez, administrator of El Proyecto’s Arleta clinic, said she is grateful for the program’s services, which she said would provide peace of mind.

“In the future, I won’t have to worry about thousands of dollars being lost in an earthquake,” she said. “We can just focus our attention on rendering medical care.”

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