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Hundreds receive free care at annual OHSU health fair

Event’s current student organizers partner with one of its founders to improve health care access
A man gets his eyes checked at the OHSU Casey Eye clinic booth at the Health Equity Fair.
Vision health patient Timothy Merrifield is blind in his left eye and loves to read. He stopped by the vision care booth to get his vision checked and to see about getting some new glasses. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)

The 2022 Health Care Equity Fair offered Timothy Merrifield a welcome opportunity to receive a free eye checkup.

Merrifield loves learning about other’s lives through biographies. But his up-close vision has recently worsened, and he develops headaches whenever he tries to read.

A friend at a low-income apartment building in downtown Portland recommended he come to the annual fair, which Oregon Health & Science University students have organized for more than a decade to help improve health care access for local residents.

“This event came at a good time,” Merrifield said as he briefly waited for volunteers from the OHSU Casey Community Outreach Program and the Pacific University EyeVan to assess his eye health and connect him with a free pair of glasses. “I need glasses to read.”

The eye health station was one of dozens scattered under tents at Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square on Sunday, Oct. 2, for the annual fair. Other free services offered at the event included flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, foot care and soaks, haircuts, showers and veterinary checkups for pets.

The fair began in 2009 as a health screening fair that OHSU students organized as one of several local events that marked a national, week-long awareness campaign focused on the challenges faced by those who don’t have health insurance.

Gina Miller, M.D., was among the medical students who organized the first health screening event in 2009. Having graduated from OHSU in 2011, she was surprised to learn recently that the event she helped start is still going. Miller, who is now a family medicine physician in Lebanon, Oregon, helped students organize this year’s fair.

“I’m really proud of this,” she said as students took blood pressure and weight measurements at the nearby primary care tent. “It’s almost overwhelming how big it’s gotten, and how much work the students put into making it happen every year.”

From left to right are the four student organizers for the 2022 Health Care Equity Fair: M.D./M.P.H. student Ali Lokhandwala, M.D. student Sydney Lashley, M.D./M.C.R. student Lisa Kumasaka, and M.D./M.P.H. student Tamana Ebrat. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)
From left to right are the four student organizers for the 2022 Health Care Equity Fair: M.D./M.P.H. student Ali Lokhandwala, M.D. student Sydney Lashley, M.D./M.C.R. student Lisa Kumasaka, and M.D./M.P.H. student Tamana Ebrat. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)

Current OHSU students who organized the 2022 fair – co-led by M.D. student Sydney Lashley, M.D./M.C.R student Lisa Kumasaka, M.D./M.P.H. student Ali Lokhandwala and M.D./M.P.H. student Tamana Ebrat – explained why the event is still needed 13 years later.

“Portland has a major housing crisis that affects the health and well-being of anyone who is experiencing homelessness, or anyone who can’t afford health insurance because of the rising cost of housing,” Lokhandwala said.

“Socioeconomic status can sadly determine our health,” Ebrat added, referring to low incomes preventing some from receiving needed health care. “We hope OHSU students can keep organizing the Health Care Equity Fair until health care is accessible by all.”

For a gallery of downloadable photos, click here.

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