Tzu Chi’s Ongoing Free Clinic in San Bernardino Serves Those in Need

National Headquarters  |  June 30, 2023
Noel Lopez and his kids
Noel Lopez and his two children leave happily after receiving treatment at the free clinic in San Bernardino County. Photo/Da Ai TV News Team

Written by Jennifer Qian
Translated by Ariel Chan
Edited by Patrick McShane

San Bernardino County, located in the inland region of Southern California, is one of the five poorest counties in the United States. The majority of local families are agricultural workers who often struggle to make ends meet. Recognizing that many residents in this community are immigrant or undocumented farm workers who lack medical insurance, Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters initiated free quarterly clinics for them and low-income families shortly after starting the food distribution project in 1996. Tzu Chi has been committed to this work for over 20 years and has formed a strong bond with the local community. 

Dental care is expensive without insurance coverage. So, all dental treatments are provided at the clinic free of charge. Photo/Da Ai TV News Team
Tzu Chi volunteers serve every patient who comes to the clinic with kindness and care. Da Ai TV News Team

In addition to Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tzu Chi’s healthcare services in San Bernardino include dental and eye care treatments often not covered by insurance plans. Tzu Chi also provides free medication and eyeglasses. For patients requiring specialized medical services, volunteers connect them with physicians who can offer further treatment free of charge. These efforts aim to assist families in need by providing them with professional medical care, thereby breaking the cycle of poverty caused by illness.

Tzu Chi temporarily suspended the free clinic service during the pandemic but restarted it in 2022. Volunteers understand the challenges faced by less affluent and low-income residents in the post-pandemic era, so they also prepare donated goods from the Treasure Hut at Tzu Chi USA’s National Headquarters campus to display at the clinic site. Clinic care recipients can then choose clothing, shoes, or daily necessities, all for free, reducing their household expenditure and allowing them to spend their limited income on more essential needs.

Bringing Light to Difficult Lives

Optometrist Dr. Deborah Duan mentioned, “A lot of them haven’t had an exam in six years or fifteen years, or maybe they’ve just never done one, and we’ll check their vision and then their eye health, and then if we can, we carve lenses for them so that they can go home with a pair of glasses.”

Almost every doctor at Tzu Chi has a translator present to assist patients in communicating barrier-free with doctors. After treatment, patients can also choose second-hand clothing, bags, shoes, and other items available free of charge for anyone who needs them. The community donates these items, and while most are second-hand, they are in good condition, and some are even brand new, complete with labels.

In appreciation of such considerate service and care, Noel Lopez, a patient, expressed, “I work during the weekdays, and this is on the weekend, so this is perfect. I can come with my kids, and I decided to go get a checkup. I’m getting glasses, and they’re just getting the eye exam.”

You can see their faces, with a smile, ‘I can read, I can read, I can see the color!

The high cost of healthcare in the United States is a significant contributor to bankruptcy for many families across the country. Tzu Chi’s free clinics are a lifeline for countless patients and their families, offering them a buoy before they are overwhelmed by despair. Tzu Chi’s compassion, love, and help for those in need in our community ensures they will continue to receive high-quality medical care in the future.

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