Karen Lamp, MD (left), and Catherine Charouhas, NP, are staff providers at Venice Family Clinic who work with almost 700 medical volunteers and dozens of institutional partners to help uninsured patients like Rosalinda get the care they need. Photo: Tim Smith
There's No Place Like Home (A Medical Home, That Is)

When Rosalinda first limped through the doors of Venice Family Clinic, in 1999, her hands, knees, and feet were deformed, slowly knotted by years of uncontrolled rheumatoid arthritis. She was 50 years old and had certainly tried to find health care previously but, being uninsured, had been unable to receive consistent medical attention. Hers could have become another health-care-access horror story, and likely would have if she hadn’t found several advocates, beginning with Catherine Charouhas, NP, one of Venice Family Clinic’s staff nurse practitioners.

As soon as there was an opening, Charouhas referred Rosalinda into Venice Family Clinic’s rheumatology clinic, run by volunteer rheumatology fellows led by Michael Weisman, MD, from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Rosalinda now had access to primary care as well as the specialty care she so badly needed, and soon her pain and inflammation were under control. In the bigger picture, she had finally found a medical home, and this would eventually prove to be lifesaving.

In early 2000, during a routine screening, Charouhas discovered a lump in one of Rosalinda’s breasts. The biopsy showed cancer. Within 24 hours, Venice Family Clinic’s cancer detection staff enrolled Rosalinda in a special breast cancer treatment program available through Medi-Cal, the state Medicaid program, and she had a lumpectomy at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center. The program also covered chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

But her Medi-Cal coverage was only good for one year. What would happen after that? What if she had a recurrence of cancer? Her oncologist at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, Melanie Shaum, MD, said not to worry. She promised to stick with her.

Several years later, a dentist discovered a red spot on Rosalinda’s palate and suggested she have it checked out. Yet another volunteer, Chester Griffiths, MD, FACS, an ear/nose/throat physician and a member of Venice Family Clinic’s Board of Directors, performed the biopsy. This one showed Rosalinda had lymphoma.

Dr. Shaum called the Clinic’s Medical Director, Karen Lamp, MD, and offered up a deal. If Dr. Lamp could secure the diagnostic procedures – a bone marrow biopsy and a PET scan – then Dr. Shaum could get the treatment donated. Dr. Lamp knew such expensive diagnostics were normally not available free of charge, but she and the Clinic had a long-time friend in Nathalie Orloff, MD, a pathologist at Saint John’s Health Center. Working with the Saint John’s community benefits coordinator, Dr. Orloff was able to quickly arrange both the biopsy and the scan. As promised, Dr. Shaum followed with chemotherapy.

Rosalinda completed her treatment and is now lymphoma-free. Some might say she beat the odds on cancer, but she may have beaten even longer odds in simply accessing care.

She succeeded because she found more than just a medical facility. So what, then, is Venice Family Clinic? It's a physical place, yes, but it’s also a community – over 1,500 volunteers, plus local hospitals, labs, radiology firms, medical schools, and partner agencies. They get involved because they know how much it means to patients like Rosalinda. They stay involved because they learn how much it means to them, too.

This story appeared in the November 2008 issue of Short Story. Click here to view the entire e-newsletter.

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