Free Medical Clinic Seeks to Expand Specialty Care

By John Fredricks
John Fredricks
John Fredricks
John Fredricks is a California-based journalist for The Epoch Times. His reportage and photojournalism features have been published in a variety of award-winning publications around the world.
June 26, 2021 Updated: June 26, 2021

ORANGE, Calif.—Having seen more than one million patients since opening 40 years ago, the Lestonnac Free Clinic continues to find new ways to help financially stricken individuals at no cost to taxpayers.

When patient Maria Cortez walked into the clinic on June 21 to see a specialist about her trouble breathing, she was seated by a medical assistant in front of a machine containing a screen, camera, and medical devices that help record her body information. The state-of-the-art technology allows medical specialists to see and connect with patients remotely.

On the other side of the camera was Dr. Dan Bethencourt, who helped Cortez from his Palos Verdes, Calif. home.

“Most of the findings using this device are in terms of physical exam, monitoring the patient’s heart and lungs. Major use of the machine has been with the stethoscope type function, but I can very clearly hear heart sounds and subtle rhythm changes,” Bethencourt told The Epoch Times while speaking through the medical camera.

“It’s really an advantage for the patients. They can have someone local; they can keep coming back to specialists with this direct access. It doesn’t substitute being in the same room, but we’ve learned in medicine, throughout the pandemic particularly, it really advanced the use of telemedicine, and especially diagnosing a cardiac disease.”

It was through the machine and Bethencourt’s guidance that Cortez was able to finally have peace of mind about her condition.

“I feel more at ease because now I know the doctor will be able to find treatment for me,” Cortez said through a translator.

“He sent me to get some more labs to be able to give me proper medication,” she said. “I’m really surprised at how well they took care of me today, especially considering that I didn’t have to pay anything for my visit. I’m so appreciative of the help I received.”

Epoch Times Photo
A patient at the Lestonnac Free Clinic talks with a doctor about her health issues using a telemedicine machine in Orange, Calif., on June 21, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Lestonnac Free Clinic helps finically struggling patients such as Cortez, whose job was cut back to one day per week during the pandemic.

Ed Gerber, executive director of the clinic, is confident that obtaining more machines will carry forward the clinic’s mission to help the needy.

“Currently if you’re uninsured, to be kind of frank, you’re screwed,” Gerber told The Epoch Times.

“When it comes to the specialty care you need for your ailments, you’re not getting it. It’s $150 to $200 a visit and if you’re low income and don’t have insurance, you’re not going to get that visit you if can’t afford them.”

Gerber, who has been with the clinic for 27 years, originally connected with Lestonnac Free Clinic after seeking treatment for his young son.

“I was afraid to come and ask for help—I know many people today are afraid to come and ask for help—but when I got here, all those fears were relieved, because I was treated with such dignity and respect,” he said.

‘“The impact on the community is … amazing. And you know, I think as a community, this clinic shows what people working together can do to make a difference.”

The clinic is now fundraising to create its next accessible health care idea: “medical wheels that heal.”

The portable clinics, modified onto a Ford F-350 truck by Riverside-based CT Coachworks, will feature the same technology available at the clinic that connects patients to specialty care.

“What we’re hoping is for more access to specialty care than ever before,” Gerber said.

“Providing a place that can help people in need is as simple as that. With these new mobile device units, more people than ever are able to have access to health care.”

As fundraising efforts are underway, Christian Care Ministry has partnered with the clinic by matching dollar-for-dollar donations up to $150,000 until July 15.

“We anticipate it’s going to cost about $300,000 to operate this the first year,” Gerber said.

“They take some time; four or five months to build and arrange the medical staff, but we are excited to get this underway.”

The Lestonnac Free Clinic in Orange treats on average 24,000 people per year. Mobilizing medical care operations with the new technology leaves doctors volunteering their services at the clinic optimistic.

“The difference with this technology is that you have everything you need. The optics are fantastic, and the sound is perfect,” Beverly Hills-based Dr. Mario Rosenberg told the Epoch Times over the medical device screen.

“I truly love this system. I worked at Cedars [Sinai hospital] for more than 40 years, and this is very technologically advanced. You now have access to doctors anytime and anywhere there is a device.”

John Fredricks
John Fredricks
John Fredricks is a California-based journalist for The Epoch Times. His reportage and photojournalism features have been published in a variety of award-winning publications around the world.