Free clinic thrives in Solana Beach
For the first time in 30 years, Bob, who recently lost his job, has no health insurance. Last Saturday morning, he went to the free clinic at St. Leo’s church in Solana Beach, a resource Imelda has been utilizing regularly for the past five years.
Their conditions, while different — Bob hurt his knee playing softball, Imelda requires recurrent treatment for her diabetes — lend themselves to the same need: quality healthcare for those who lack coverage.
“The service is good,” Imelda said. “They treat people really well here even though there are a lot of people coming.”
This very reputation has carried the St Leo’s Church clinic since it opened in 1991. Founder Dr. Richard Wheelock, formerly the head of Del Mar Clinic, continues to work here each Wednesday and Saturday long after retiring from full-time practice. Patients are only asked to make a $10 donation when registering for services — no insurance necessary, no doctor’s fees to pay.
“Sometimes we think we’re just putting our finger in the dike, trying to take care of all,” Wheelock said.
What used to be only a kitchen now passes as a full medical office. Dermatology, internal medicine and the high-tech equipment necessary are all available.
The clinic’s waiting area is a small outdoor patio behind the church. Patients sit on benches, some shaded, before entering through a back door.
“They saw the need to have something for people who didn’t have any insurance,” said Esperanza Hamolsky, a volunteer who has been involved with the clinic since it opened. “It started with two rooms and little by little it became more and more and more and now we have five to seven rooms.”
And with the increasing space came more people looking for help. On a typical Saturday maybe 20 to 30 people were served. Now that number has increased to nearly 60, so the small staff tries to limit the people it sees to only those living between South Carlsbad and Sorrento Valley.
“A lot of them didn’t have insurance and then a lot of them, as they say, do fall through the cracks,” Wheelock said.
While practicing at the Del Mar Clinic, the doctor would often treat part-time workers who lacked coverage. To help more than just those around him, Wheelock contacted St. James church to help get the clinic started.
“We have no rent, no utilities and no salaries,” he said.
But what they do have is a thankful clientele that keeps spreading the word. Bob found out about this clinic through a friend at his Escondido church.
“She just told me ‘you’re not going to believe the quality of the doctor you’re going to meet,’ ” he said as he waited for his name to be called.
After nearly two hours, Bob’s name was finally called. He came out some time later with a brace on his sore knee and some pills to numb the pain.
Although another Saturday was done, Wheelock was in no rush to leave. When given the opportunity to be somewhat boastful, the doctor didn’t take the bait.
“Oh I don’t know, my wife says I need all the brownie points I can get,” he said.
Hamolsky, walking by, perhaps summed Wheelock up best.
“He wouldn’t be able to live without being a doctor,” she said. “No way.”
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