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Clinic Workers Block Street to Protest Closure

Eastside: Organized by union, dozens gather to demand that nonprofit center be reopened.


About 70 employees of a closed East Los Angeles nonprofit health clinic and their supporters took over a busy Eastside intersection Wednesday to dramatize their demands that the clinic operated by the Community Health Foundation of East Los Angeles be reopened.

The chanting protesters, with whistles and posters, marched several blocks from the closed clinic to the intersection of Whittier Boulevard and Indiana Street, where they congregated in the middle of the street to set up a mock emergency room and treat "patients."

Some truckers and others caught in the bottleneck angrily honked horns, but could do little else as the protesters remained in the intersection for 15 minutes. "All I'm trying to do is go straight on Whittier," a UPS driver said as he sat in his idled delivery truck.

Eventually, the protesters allowed him to drive through the intersection.

Although sheriff's deputies admonished the protest organizers because they had no permit to march in the street, no citations were issued for blocking the intersection. Indiana serves as the boundary between the city of Los Angeles and unincorporated East L.A., but no Los Angeles Police Department officers appeared to control the clogged traffic on the Boyle Heights side of the intersection.

Officials of Local 660 of the Service Employees International Union organized the protest to demand that the nonprofit clinic at 3945 E. Whittier Blvd. be reopened because it served a largely low-income region and provided cheap health care.

"We need to straighten this out right now," said Dr. Darren Turko, who worked at the clinic.

In the past year, the foundation's 13 health clinics have closed because of deficits reaching $6.5 million. The last two clinics, in East Los Angeles and Bell, closed March 28.

Allegations of financial mismanagement, including assertions that the clinics double-billed patients or charged for services that should have been free, have dogged the foundation. Its longtime executive director and board of directors were forced to resign because of growing concerns by federal, state and county officials that funds were being squandered.

Los Angeles County officials have made arrangements for the clinic's patients to go to other health providers in the area for care, but the protesters said Wednesday that some outlets, such as Clinica Oscar Romero in the Pico-Union district, were too far away for Eastside patients.

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