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Rockwood Free Clinic Helps Hispanics Get Health Care

   Portland, Ore.

Medical Clinic Serves Fastest Growing Hispanic Community in Multnomah County

A group of nine men, women and children stand under the shaded entryway for the doors to open at The Wallace Medical Concern Rockwood clinic in Gresham. Most have come straight from their jobs. They look tired as they wait, sometimes more than 30 minutes. They come before the 6 p.m. opening time to be sure they are some of the first to sign up for medical care at this free clinic.

Every Monday and Wednesday evenings the doors open to the needy, the uninsured and the poor who need to see a health care professional -- which is often an Oregon Health & Science University physician, nurse or medical student.

On a recent evening, the doors are unlocked at their usual time. Within a minute, the waiting room is full with eight women, two children and 11 men. Some are there just to assist family members or friends. The children station themselves at the Lego play table pushing the colored tiles together or they play on another toy pushing colored wooden balls around on curved wires. The adults busily fill out paperwork so they can be seen as soon as possible.

In the back, the all-volunteer staff of interpreters, a nurse, a physician, two OHSU medical students and one in-take person discuss the upcoming evening.

More than 70 OHSU medical students, five OHSU nurses and 36 OHSU and Veterans Affairs Medical Center physicians volunteer at the clinic as well as at Wallace Medical Concern's other two clinics, in Portland. The third-and fourth-year students can list this volunteering as an audit elective but receive no credit.

"The involvement of OHSU's medical students is broader than it has ever been at one of our clinics. For the first time in years there are students on our committees, there is a student on our fund-raising committee and we have first-and second-year students who serve as interpreters. It's good for our committees to have the diversity these students bring in terms of their age and that they are just beginning their careers," Kathy Hammock, Executive Director of Wallace Medical Concern.

"Our students want to learn how a nonprofit community agency works. They like working here. These kinds of opportunities connect our students with their community," said James Reuler, M.D., the volunteer medical director for the Wallace Concern. He was instrumental in creating The Wallace Medical Concern concept of providing health care for the underserved and for providing an opportunity for students to be involved. Reuler is also a professor of medicine, division of general medicine and geriatrics in the School of Medicine and section chief of general internal medicine at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The attending physician oversees the medical students' patient care.

Austin Jou, 24, a third-year OHSU School of Medicine student, has been volunteering at Rockwood for about a year. He said that helps him feel a part of the community.

"We have all entered medicine because at some level we have an intrinsic desire to help others. As we progress with our careers, the rigors of our training increase and we occasionally lose sight of this. The Rockwood Clinic is a place where medicine is reduced to its simplest elements: those caring for patients and the patients themselves. Working in this atmosphere reminds me of why I went into medicine," he said.

Thao Nguyen, 25, a fourth-year medical student, has also been helping at Rockwood for more than a year. "Part of the reason I volunteer here is that it gives me a different perspective of patients. The people who come here really need our help. Plus, we get to deal with basic medicine and have to work with what we have on hand here," she said

Thomas DeLoughery, M.D., has been volunteering at Rockwood since it opened and at the other clinics since 1986. He is an associate professor of medicine (hemotology and medical oncology and pathology) in OHSU's School of Medicine.

"I think I like working here because at OHSU I have a specialized practice. There I can practice very basic medicine. It's nice to go and talk to somebody, look in their throat, see a sore throat and be able to help them. And the people are very nice, very enjoyable. I like that I'm doing something good for people," he said.

The increase in the range of OHSU's students' involvement goes hand-in-hand with the increased need at all of the clinics. Rockwood has resulted in the 59 percent increase in patients at the Wallace Medical Concern. Since Rockwood opened in December 1999, 1,200 patients have been seen.

The Rockwood area was targeted for the new clinic because it was found to have the fastest growing Hispanic population in Multnomah County. "And that matters," said Hammock, "because Hispanics in Oregon are uninsured at a rate double that of the general population. We also targeted this area because there were no existing health services for uninsured people in the area."

"It was also found to be the neediest area for health care," Reuler said.

Hammock agreed. "The need is huge. We are turning away patients. On some nights, for every two patients we see, we have to turn one away. When a patient is turned away, we give them a list of other suitable places that may be able to help. This is the worst thing our staff has to do. I mean, they come to us as a last resort," she said.

Inez Martinez, 37, brought in her son, Juan, 13. His big toe was red, bloody and very swollen sticking out of his sandal. Martinez, in Spanish and English, explains that her son would not listen to her about clipping his nails or let her help and now his in-grown toenail is likely infected. Martinez has a job as a sander, but does not have adequate health insurance.

Cher Thao, 46, was having a wound on his leg checked. He said he had a job but his health insurance did not start for several months.

Martinez and Cher are like most of the 100 people who come to Wallace's Rockwood clinic each month. More than half speak only Spanish and have no or inadequate health insurance.

The patients are asked to contribute what they can. Rockwood receives $10 to $40 a night from patients. This year's budget is $121,500. The Wallace Medical Concern clinics receive donations and financial support from the Multnomah County Health Department, Kaiser Permanente, Legacy Health System, Providence Hospital and Medical Centers, individual contributions, patient donations, and grants from a variety of local and regional foundations, corporations, businesses, churches and the state safety net fund.

The other Wallace Medical Concern clinics operate at these Portland locations: The Salvation Army Greenhouse, 820 S.W. Oak, Tuesday evenings, general medicine and chiropractic service; Estate Hotel, 225 N.W. Couch. General medical care is every Thursday; dermatology is on the first and third Thursday; and podiatry is on the second and fourth Thursdays.

For those wanting to contribute or volunteer, please call 503 274-1277; send an e-mail to; or write to The Wallace Medical Concern, P.O. Box 6972, Portland, OR 97228.


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