Family of doctors volunteers at L.A. free clinic


When organizers of a massive free clinic scrambled this week to find volunteer doctors to treat thousands of needy patients at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, the Vaisman family answered the call.

Dr. Boris Vaisman, 34, a family practitioner who works with his mother in Woodland Hills, recruited his father, who practices in Studio City, and his brother, who will graduate from medical school in June.

Dr. Sofia Vaisman, 61, treated women, some of whom had never seen a gynecologist and did not know what a mammogram was. Dr. Mark Vaisman, 61, who also is a family practitioner, and his son Boris performed general medical exams. Joe Vaisman, 25, worked triage.

The Los Angeles County Medical Assn. estimates there are nearly 30,000 doctors licensed locally. Organizers had hoped to attract at least 300 doctors, dentists, nurses and other medical professionals each day. But no more than 200 are preregistered for any remaining day of the clinic, which ends Monday.

Some medical stations and dental chairs sat empty as patients waited -- with hundreds of patients each day asked to return.

“Everybody tends to think somebody else will do it,” said Dr. Natalie Nevins, the clinic’s medical director. “We need optometrists, ophthalmologists, desperately.”

UCLA and USC notified doctors, dentists and nurses in advance and sent contingents of medical students to the clinic. UCLA sent more than 150 medical staff and students. USC sent a mobile dental unit, instructors and students.

Although e-mails went out to the 157 hospitals in the Hospital Assn. of Southern California and the 10,500 members of the Cooperative of American Physicians-Mutual Protection Trust, a malpractice insurer, other sources went untapped.

Clinic organizers said they met with representatives from the Los Angeles County Medical Assn., but Sean O’Brien, the association’s executive director, said he first learned of the clinic on the news Wednesday. On Thursday, O’Brien said that he was willing to notify members but that it was probably too late.

“Physicians have very busy schedules, so it’s really something you have to plan in advance,” he said.

California Medical Assn. officials said they were not contacted by clinic organizers. Spokesman Andrew Lamar said some of the association’s more than 35,000 members probably were reluctant to volunteer because such work is not covered by their malpractice insurance.

The association and the state medical board support pending state legislation that would require the state to cover such doctors if they volunteer and are later sued by a patient. Another way to increase volunteers would be to open California clinics to professionals licensed out of state, which pending legislation would allow.

The Vaismans, who began the day at 5:30 a.m., said it shouldn’t take out-of-state doctors to staff the clinic. On Thursday, they were hopeful that as the weekend approached, more doctors would clear their schedules.

“I’m booked for two months, and I rearranged my schedule,” Sofia Vaisman said.