OHSU students treat needy at Health Care Equity Fair
There's co-pays. Deductibles. Co-insurance.
And — in case you forgot — the insurance premium.
It's barriers to medical care such as these that inspired students from Oregon Health & Science University to ditch the paperwork and pay-outs during the annual Health Care Equity Fair in downtown Portland.
About 170 people were expected to fill the white tents of the free clinic at Pioneer Courthouse Square from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 3.
That includes Jared Johnson.
The 40-year-old has access to medical health care insurance, but no dental. A bad root canal breached a few years ago, leading to an infection that spread to his sinuses. Now he's concerned about his front incisor.
"I've been worried this is going to break," explained the North Portland resident, who suffers from hearing impairment and uses a wheelchair. "I worked for years, so my insurance is probably better than many of the people around me."
The Health Care Equity Fair, now in its eleventh year, offers primary care, dental services, dilated eye exams, foot care, help with enrollment into the Oregon Health Plan, medication reconciliation, private hot showers, and specialists trained to provide women's and LGBTQ-oriented health care.
There were also free innoculations for the flu, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis and hepatitis A, as well as veterinary care for folks' furry friends. A limited number of free eyeglasses were distributed and patients with more serious needs were given advice for follow-up appointments.
The entire event is planned and executed by a team of students.
Nga Nguyen, a student organizer studying to be a generalist for internal or emergency medicine, says real-world medical care can be characterized by "insurance and billing and a lot of red tape."
"It's really liberating to provide service directly," she said, "and know the patient isn't worried about anything but her health."
"One of the most important reasons to go into medicine is the desire to serve others," added organizer Thomas O'Toole, who hopes to become an orthopedic surgeon. "Seeing such a vast need for health care is really motivating."
Both doctors-to-be are in their second year at OHSU. Nguyen is studying medicine in her hometown, while O'Toole hails from Drewsey, a tiny community in Eastern Oregon.
It takes about 150 people to make the Health Care Equity Fair come to life, with about 60 coming from OHSU. Other partners include Oregon State University, Pacific University and numerous non-profits.
O'Toole said the number of attendees at the fair has actually gone down since the Affordable Care Act subsidized thousands of Oregonians' access to the state's version of Medicaid. About 94 percent of residents statewide now have access to health insurance, according to a 2017 survey. Still, about 12 percent of Americans lack access to health care — and enrollment isn't a magic bullet.
"We know a lot of people forgo needed care, even if they're insured," said Dr. Paul Gorman, a professor of internal medicine at OHSU.