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Funds from 10th annual event support operational costs for county's only free health clinic

Supporters of Clackamas Volunteers In Medicine's free health care services addressing systemic barriers convened on April 29 for the nonprofit's 10th anniversary luncheon, raising over $100,000 for the clinic's operational costs.

Elected officials, business leaders and community members gathered at the Willamette Valley Country Club in Canby for the first time in two years due to COVID-19 impacts, breaking bread to commemorate CVIM's decade of work providing primary care, lab services, optometry and more to over 3,500 county residents, the majority of whom were low-income, uninsured or underinsured.

"Most of our patients were and still are low-wage essential workers supporting families," said Martha Spiers, PMG PHOTO: JAELEN OGADHOH - CVIM Executive Director Martha Spiers addresses the crowd of supporters at the 10th anniversary luncheon on April 29.executive director of CVIM. "They are typically ineligible or just over income for the Oregon Health Plan and often come to us with chronic conditions, deferring their own health care to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table."

She said that a hospital bill can be "catastrophic" for these families as many CVIM patients are one paycheck away from homelessness, adding that the nonprofit's patient population is primarily people of color, with a 67% Latino population and, 80% of appointments offered in Spanish, requiring Spanish language interpreters, which she said there are not enough of.

Gabriel Lehrburger, a Spanish interpreter and scribe with CVIM and incoming student at A. T. Still University Osteopathic Medicine said that it makes a "world's difference" when patients can express themselves in their native languages.

"There's an incredible amount of trust that comes in when when the patient realizes that they can express themselves in their native language, that somebody can understand and respond to make sure that their needs are being met," Lehrburger said.

Gabriela Hernandez Duran, a patient navigator with CVIM and incoming student at Oregon Health and Science University, added that establishing that foundation of trust is crucial due to their patients having faced critical miscommunications with other clinics.

"It's definitely a journey ensuring patients that they won't get charged for this and just reassuring them, because a lot of our patients have had situations where that they've been told that but then they get a bill," Hernandez Duran said.

The event was also a celebration of new beginnings, as the nonprofit is in the process of relocating its clinic to an expanded, 5,000 square foot location at Clackamas Community College's Oregon City campus. Spiers said CVIM has raised approximately $2.6 million toward the $3 million project.

PMG PHOTO: JAELEN OGADHOH - From left: Dr. Alisha Saultz, Dr. Kristin Bendert, Dr. Anna Tubman, Dr. Michelle Alberts

She added that the earliest large contribution to CVIM's fundraising campaign for the new space came when Rep. Mark Meek, D-Gladstone/Oregon City, allocated $300,000 in COVID-19 relief funding to the project, later matched with $300,000 allocated by Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego; and another $200,000 was allocated by Courtney Neron, D-Wilsonville.

"For too many Oregonians there just aren't many places that are available for accessible, affordable medical care," Meek said. "Clackamas Volunteers In Medicine serves our most vulnerable residents with compassion, respect, and dignity."

The Heatherington Foundation for Innovation and Education in Health Care has provided $700,000 in matching funds to the clinic relocation, and another $650,000 came from a federal community development grant approved by Clackamas County.

Commissioner Sonya Fischer said that CVIM "has been a critical asset in our community" adding that they "provide awareness about the critical need, which is evident by all the people that are here."

Spiers said that due to a setback in construction for the new building, CVIM will be temporarily housed in the Mountain View Professional Center in Oregon City to continue providing services during the transition.

Libra Forde, North Clackamas School Board chair and candidate for Clackamas County Commissioner, praised CVIM for the work they do to bring equity to a crucial field and increase the number of medical workers from underrepresented groups.

"I think they do a great job by showing us testimonies and making sure that they elevate those that have done the work," Forde said, adding that "the outreach that they do is really impeccable."

To close the event, Dr. Anna Tubman, medical director for CVIM, awarded the William J. Pyrch award for community service to Alice Norris and Dr. Michael Norris. Alice, former Oregon City mayor from 2003 to 2010, served on the CVIMs advisory board. Michael helped found CVIM in 2012 and served on its board of directors. Both will be stepping away from the clinic this year.

"It's the end of an era and the beginning of a new one," Alice said. "However, there's some things that won't change. We still will operate under a culture of caring. We still will not charge for our medical services. And we still will be absolutely dependent on the donations of money, services and partnerships to be able to meet the needs of our patients."

To learn more about Clackamas Volunteers in Medicine, click here.

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