Sister Kathleen Crowley: Reflections on Health Care


Sister Kathy Crowley is a clinical social worker at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrence, California.

What if one of our sisters had to use crazy glue to keep her dental plate together? Would I be able to sleep in a car from midnight till 5 a.m. in the parking lot, then line up with hundreds of others in the hopes that when I get to the front of the line, there will be a ticket for me to see the dentist? What would it feel like to get my first pair of glasses at age 60 when I’ve needed them for about 20 years or more?

These are just a few of my thoughts after S. Adrienne Pereira (one of the sisters with whom I live) and I began registering people at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning as we volunteered with a group called Remote Area Medical (RAM). 60 Minutes showcased the program about a year ago when they went to a rural area in Texas with volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses and others to help people who need services but were unable to receive them for a number of reasons, the primary one being a lack of health insurance.

The director’s passion made an impression on me as he lamented how the hardest part of his job was to tell people who had begun gathering as early as 1 a.m. to be told that by 7 a.m. there were no tickets left, and he would have to turn them away. That story and those people stayed with me.

You can imagine my surprise when one Friday evening this same man appeared on the Los Angeles evening news, saying he was bringing the service to the huge metropolitan area of Los Angeles. LA is hardly a rural area and it is rich in medical centers. The common element, however, is people—the vast number of folks who lack affordable health care and would be willing to wait for hours in the hopes that they’ll get help. So off went Adrienne and I to see if we could be a part of this amazing, yet heart-breaking event.

The floor of the Forum, a former home for the LA Lakers, now was entirely filled with 75 dental chairs, tables of equipment, a couple of mobile unit vans for the making of eye glasses, mammogram imaging equipment, 38 medical examining rooms—all being staffed by volunteer nurses, doctors and dentists. Waiting in line patiently for hours were the many people of Los Angeles in need of these services.

According to the LA Times, one day’s work included 95 tooth extractions, 22 oral surgeries, 470 fillings, RXs for 140 eyeglasses, 45 mammograms, 43 HIV tests and 96 pap smears. More than 2,000 people showed up the first day.

At the end of our shift, I felt good—good that there were such generous people willing to share their gifts and such patient people who were so thrilled to finally be receiving such needed care. But I also felt very sad, disgusted and angry that this kind of event has to happen in the United States of America, just so that an elderly lady can get her dental plate glued appropriately, a rotten tooth can get pulled or a woman might get proper vision care for the first time.

There is an old saying that goes: "You know where you stand on an issue by those with whom you sit." That day at the Forum again helped me know where I stand, and I am grateful for it.

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