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EAST LOS ANGELES : Housing Project Gets a Next-Door Clinic

A boarded-up apartment at the Ramona Gardens housing project will soon be converted to a permanent medical clinic, with doctors and a dentist to treat patients from the neighborhood.

A city zoning administrator approved plans in December to convert the three-bedroom unit, No. 380, which has been empty for four months, said John Juarez, assistant director of Community Health Foundation of East Los Angeles, which will run the clinic.

The converted apartment will be the new quarters for the clinic the foundation has run for two years out of temporary offices under a $289,000 grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

The foundation now uses the Ramona Gardens Resident Advisory Council’s offices.

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Last year, doctors, nurses and physician’s assistants at the clinic treated 3,000 patients, said Community Health Foundation Executive Director Rodolfo Diaz. The housing complex has an estimated population of 4,000.

The organization also has run a clinic for the last four years at the Aliso Village housing project and hopes to move into permanent quarters there after the complex is rebuilt in about two years, Diaz said.

The clinics’ popularity has grown over the years.

“For us, it’s important because we get the prompt medical care right here,” said Florencia Lopez, president of the Ramona Gardens Resident Advisory Council, which represents residents in the management of the complex. “A lot of people don’t have Medi-Cal or any other way to see a doctor, so this has been a very good thing for us.”

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Juarez and Diaz say their services help improve the health of the residents because by increasing their chances of getting medical attention before illnesses become serious and require a trip to an emergency room.

“We found that they weren’t going (to the doctor) at all or not until it became acute, or when they got shot,” Diaz said.

The residents even slipped through the cracks of the state’s medical insurance for the poor, Juarez said.

As the services expand, residents are being hired to perform some of the tasks required in a medical office, such as patient registration and minor medical assistance. Residents will also be enlisted to teach others about health and nutrition and the need for immunizations.

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Resident Carmen Nieves, 41, said she has taken it upon herself to spread the word to all neighbors about the services offered at the clinic.

A Ramona Gardens resident for 14 years, Nieves said she was wary of free medical attention in her own neighborhood and of a clinic doctor who at first glance looked too young to be good at his profession. When her 2-year-old son, Alex, became ill with an eye infection a year ago, she took him to hospitals and specialists as far away as Mexico and San Francisco to find a cure.

“I live here, but when you have a baby, you’re going to go everywhere to get help for him,” she said.

She got prescriptions for eyedrops and ointments, but nothing worked. One specialist told her he would have to operate on Alex, but on a whim she brought him to the clinic where the youthful physician, Dr. Heshan Raghab, gave her a prescription for medicine that she received free.

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“On the first day after the medication, he didn’t have (any more infection),” Nieves said.

She laughed, remembering her exhaustive efforts to find help, when it was just across the street. “Thanks to God and my doctor, he’s fine. Nothing’s wrong with him.”


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