Driving down Florence yesterday, passersby probably saw a few volunteers on the sidewalk in bright red shirts referencing Michael Moore's documentary "Sicko," smiling enthusiastically next to signs advertising free health screenings.
The clinic, which offered complimentary blood pressure and glucose tests, was one of the last stops on the California-wide, "Medicare for All" tour of volunteer nurses and doctors.
There were two main motivations behind the bus tour, said Nancy Greep, a retired doctor who volunteered yesterday: to provide basic healthcare screenings and to "highlight the need for more profound healthcare reform." The latter was accomplished through pamphlets and open-forum town hall meetings where locals could stop by and share their experiences with health care.
Patients trickled in on Tuesday afternoon. About 10 people came in during the three hours before the town hall meeting. But nurses repeatedly mentioned that the turnout varies, and all that matters is that people come.
Those who came in were given a postcard-sized sheet of paper with "MEDICARE FOR ALL!" printed on it for notes, and then guided around the makeshift clinic - set up in the offices of S.C.O.P.E. – to tables with nurses ready to take blood pressure and glucose readings.
Pablo Suarez, who works in the upholstery industry, said a friend recommended that he stop by. The last time he got any sort of physical or check up was at least a couple years ago, he said.
He admitted that he didn't know very much about the healthcare industry or political situation. Still, he believes that "everybody should have medical care, one way or the other."
Lidia Alvarez, a maintenance worker, said volunteers approached her as she arrived at her bus stop after work, so she decided to stop by. She said she has health insurance, but the clinic she is supposed to go to is too far for her to visit regularly.
After the testing, patients were given the option to consult with a physician. "Do you have any more questions?" the nurses would ask. "Anything at all?"
Many patients decided to speak with a doctor, said Greep, which she added indicates "that there's this thirst for more access to health care just to get these simple questions answered."
The thirst for health care access is what motivated Donna Smith to not only join this bus tour, but start working with the California Nurses Association. Smith was featured in the 2007's "Sicko"; she and her husband were both ill at the same time, and despite their having insurance, they went bankrupt trying to pay for their medical care.
"Michael (Moore) featured me because I wasn't unique," said Smith, who is the national organizer for Medicare for All for the association.
Smith had been on the bus since June 19th, and she's the only person on the tour other than the bus driver who's stayed on the bus since day one. Other doctors, nurses and volunteers joined the traveling group for a couple cities at a time, or just for a day or two.
According to Smith, people have been very responsive at the town hall meetings. She described the stories people told as shocking.
On one stop in the tour, one woman stood up and talked about how her COBRA coverage cost went up from $400 a month to $1,200 a month after she retired. She couldn't afford it, and was forced to relinquish her insurance. Twenty-six days after she let that insurance go, she had a heart attack. But she didn't go to the hospital for 16 hours.
"She knew she didn't have health insurance, but she knew she had mortgage insurance. So if she just died, at least her son would have something," Smith said. "The room was silent after she spoke."
Smith said she's hoping for a triumphant close to the tour. The bus stops in Santa Monica today and West Covina tomorrow, and she's looking to the state of California to take the initiative on the health care issue. Even though the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, the problem isn't solved, she said.
We shouldn't have people who can't access the very basics of healthcare because of money, she said.
All photos by Emily Chu.