SATURDAY, MARCH 16, 2013 08:53 EDITED BY: JOHAN ALWALL

healthy1On the weekend of March 16-17, 2013, Tzu Chi volunteers treated hundreds of underprivileged and uninsured residents of California’s Central Valley to something they desperately need: free healthcare. This care—in the fields of medical, dental, vision, and acupuncture—was delivered by the compassionate hands of more than 100 medical professionals serving with Tzu Chi and its community partners, including Kaiser Permanente and Flying Doctors, at the First Annual Healthy Fresno Clinic.

Tzu Chi volunteers in the area have already been providing free medical services to residents for over a decade, through mobile clinic events that reach all corners of the Central Valley. Recently, as the economy continues to struggle, the largely agricultural counties of the Central Valley have been hit especially hard. With unemployment in Fresno County sitting at 16% (more than twice the national average) and many people uninsured, the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation decided to host a large-scale free clinic in order to better serve the needs of this community. This is the first major free clinic event in the United States hosted and coordinated by Tzu Chi.

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Volunteers take patients’ temperature and blood pressure before they see their doctors.
healthy2On the morning of March 16, patients started arriving well before dawn, so dear was the need for medical care. Irene, the first patient in line, explained: “We don’t have insurance, we don’t have MediCal anymore, and I needed dental work, so I heard about this, and I said, you know what, we have to come. So we came – at 3:30 in the morning!”
Throughout the two-day event, more than 750 people like Irene received more than 2600 medical services, including basic health screenings, blood pressure checks, diabetes screenings, breast exams; teeth cleanings, fillings, and extractions; and acupuncture treatments. In addition, they had access to assistance in insurance enrollment, resources and educational materials from numerous community organizations, health exercise demonstrations, and activities for children. As they also do in their regular mobile outreach events, volunteers took their care a step further, working to link individuals with local care providers to ensure continuing follow-ups and better long-term care.

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Dr. Darren Ortega tends to an uninsured patient’s teeth.

Patients and visitors alike were touched not only by the free care, but also by the heartfelt manner in which it was presented. According to Bernia, one of the patients, “Everything was so organized and professionally done; you felt so welcome, and everybody was so sincere, so polite.” Before she left, she picked up one of Tzu Chi’s bamboo banks and explained, “I’m going to take this bank and get as much donations as I possibly can and return it to the organization.” For her and many more like her, the volunteers’ loving care extended not only to the body, but also to the soul.
This first Healthy Fresno, planned to be an ongoing annual event, is an important step forward for the Central Valley as well as for Tzu Chi Medical Foundation. It follows the nearly 300 mobile medical clinics that Tzu Chi volunteers have provided throughout the Central Valley since 2001, through which they have delivered a total of more than 60,000 medical services. As the first major medical clinic coordinated by Tzu Chi, Healthy Fresno also builds on the groundwork laid by the many volunteers who have partnered in numerous major clinic events in recent years, including CareNow LA, Care 4 a Healthy I.E. in San Bernardino, Modern House Call for Women in Long Beach, and RAM (Remote Area Medical) events in Oakland, Sacramento, and Los Angeles, as well as the work done each day in Tzu Chi clinic locations across Southern California.

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Volunteer Linda Hernandez introduces Tzu Chi to a visitor

Uninsured patients were not the only ones who benefited from the successful weekend event. Volunteers and doctors too saw their lives enriched. Dr. Richard Furze, a volunteer dentist, compared the experience to harvesting fruit in the orchard of the Tzu Chi spirit: “I’ve done the work of picking the fruit, but I’ve enjoyed the bounty of it. And so, while I’m tired, I’m joyful.”

After the rousing success of this first major clinic, we can expect many more bountiful harvests to come.