SUBMITTED PHOTO - National College of Natural Medicine has started providing primary and preventative health care services to uninsured patients under a contract with Washington County.The National College of Natural Medicine will provide primary care to uninsured patients at its Beaverton clinic, thanks to a $387,000 grant from Washington County.

For more than 2,000 patients, the year-old clinic at 11975 S.W. Second St. will offer free or low-cost “safety net” services, including family planning, vaccine immunizations, and screening and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases that many wouldn’t be able to afford elsewhere.

NCNM previously had a limited community clinic inside the Elsie Stuhr Center.

For the college, the two-year grant — which could be renewed another three years for a total of nearly $1 million — provides access to a new and challenging population of patients that will provide additional learning opportunities for its students.

Furthermore, the grant also shows that county officials are confident that naturopathic providers — often considered “alternative medicine” because they mix the use of supplements, herbs, homeopathic remedies and Chinese medicine techniques such as acupuncture with more traditional Western approaches — are a valuable part of the health-care system.

“We’ve been wanting to do more outreach” since opening the Beaverton site in June 2014, said Lori Knowles, who manages community clinics for the Portland-based college. “It seemed like a great fit and great timing, too.”

Naturopathic medicine relies more on natural remedies, prevention and nutrition, and less on pharmaceuticals and surgery, than do providers taught in typical American medical schools, said Dr. Regina Dehen, dean of the college’s 11 community-based clinics around the Portland area.Dr. Regina Dehen

The Affordable Healthcare Act, often called Obamacare, recognized the value of naturopathic medicine and has helped push it into the mainstream, Dehen said.

But as many previously uninsured people got coverage under Obamacare, they flooded mainstream providers with new patients but left the uninsured with fewer options, she said.

While some naturopathic providers historically have eschewed vaccinations, NCNM recognizes the science that supports vaccinations as among the most effective means of preventing diseases.

“Without question,” Dehen said. “Whether or not a naturopathic doctor chooses to provide vaccinations or contraceptive management as part of their future private practice, these skills are an essential part of our training as primary care providers.”

The clinic’s physicians also are able to prescribe pharmaceuticals in addition to natural remedies, she added.

Marni Kuyl, director of the Washington County Department of Health and Human Services, said awarding the funding to a traditionally naturopathic provider that offers the full scope of services offers many patients a wider range of health-care choices.

“We think the population will really appreciate this as an option,” she said.

It was Kuyl who earlier this year proposed that the county close its two limited-scope health clinics in favor of funding community-based clinics that offer a wider range of health services.

“By funding these organizations,” she said, “more people have access to these comprehensive services.”

Last month, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners chose the college and three other organizations to provide primary and preventative care for up to 4,000 uninsured patients, many of whom are virtually uninsurable and some of whom are undocumented.

The college and the Neighborhood Health Center were awarded similar grants.

Virginia Garcia Memorial and SW Community health centers received $48,500 apiece to provide services to a smaller number of patients in the county.