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Free clinic relocating to Clackamas Community College to expand health services, increase access

COURTESY PHOTO: SCARSPONEE JOHNSON  - The CVIM Board of Directors and the CCC Board of Education.A new location for Clackamas County's only free health clinic has officially broken ground, as Clackamas Volunteers In Medicine enters its next decade of serving the health needs of residents countywide who face systemic barriers in accessing care.

CVIM staff, education officials, commissioners and community members gathered in front of Clackamas Community College's Oregon City campus on Friday, Feb. 4, to commemorate the first day of renovations on the new clinic-to-be, which will provide CVIM the space and resources to expand its services beyond what was available in its former building roughly 2 miles north.

At the new clinic on campus, which will include seven exam rooms, CVIM volunteers will continue their mission of facilitating primary health care, lab services, optometry and more to thousands of county residents, the majority of whom are low-income, uninsured or under-insured according to Executive Director Martha Spiers.

"Of course every patient brings their own story, but they all lack affordable access to health care," Spiers said at the groundbreaking ceremony, adding that many of their patients are immigrants, seniors, single parents and those between employment.

"Many work two to three low-wage jobs to support families," Spiers said, adding that their patient base is increasingly housing and food insecure, and are disproportionately people of color.

Mini Sharma Ogle, a CVIM board member at large, shared her personal experiences looking for affordable medical care after immigrating to the United States from India on a full scholarship to pursue her graduate degree and being bitten by a parasitic bug.COURTESY PHOTO: SCARSPONEE JOHNSON  - CVIM Board Member-at-large Mini Sharma Ogle.

"The worst part was I could not go to a clinic to get it checked out because it was summertime and since I was not enrolled in classes, I could not get medical insurance," Sharma Ogle said, adding: "despite being in the country legally, on a study scholarship and paying for medical insurance when we had classes, I could not be treated at any medical facility without paying an arm and a leg or waiting for months to see a doctor."

Sharma Ogle said her parents, currently in their 90s, also could not access medical insurance as seniors older than 65 who hadn't spent 5 years in the United states required to receive Medicaid and other forms of coverage.

Dr. Anna Tubman, medical director for CVIM, said the organization's purpose is to serve such gaps in medical coverage faced by the "vibrant, diverse and resilient" Clackamas County community, with "health equity and awareness of intersectionality" as the central focus.

"We know that health does not exist in isolation but is interdependent with other social determinants — housing, employment, education all the way from early childhood to college, food access, and the community networks that hold us together," Tubman said.

CCC President Tim Cook referenced statistics from a 2019 survey of over 8,000 students across 14 Oregon community colleges conducted by The Hope Center, which found that 41% of respondents experienced food insecurity in the prior 30 days and 52% experienced housing insecurity in the previous year, during which time an additional 20% experienced homelessness.

Tubman said the organization's mission is needed "now more than ever," as COVID-19 has continued to pummel the nation's health care system and place an "increasing economic and emotional burden on many who may have already been struggling to get by."

CVIM and CCC officials say the new clinic will not only be easier for community members to access through buses and other means of transport, but will provide students in health sciences with a new opportunity to access career-development opportunities mimicking what they might see as professional nurses, medical assistants and lab technicians.

"By having CVIM on our college campus, not only will our students have easy access to health care, but students in our health care programs will have access to real-world experience and training at the clinic," Cook said in January.

Renovations on the new clinic begin this month as CVIM celebrates its 10th anniversary since opening services to county residents in 2012, having thus far served over 3,500 residents and counting, according to Spiers.

Spiers said the next steps in developing the space include ordering equipment, furniture, hardware, a new HVAC system and more while beginning to transition out of the former space, which she said will likely require CVIM to operate out of a temporary space for "hopefully not more than a month."COURTESY PHOTO: CLACKAMAS VOLUNTEERS IN MEDICINE - A 3D floor plan of the new clinic, which will feature seven exam rooms.

The organization also continues its fundraising efforts, having raised approximately $2.5 million toward the $3 million project, with funding issuances including $800,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars allocated by Rep. Mark Meek, D-Gladstone/Oregon City; Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego; and Rep. Courtney Neron, D-Wilsonville. The Heatherington Foundation for Innovation and Education in Health Care provided $700,000 in matching funds, and another $650,000 came from a federal community development grant.

Spiers said CVIM is planning to host its annual luncheon, usually its biggest fundraising event of the year, in-person on April 29, adding that new event planners and volunteer fundraisers are always appreciated.

To volunteer with CVIM in a medical capacity, Spiers said the organization has opportunities for professional and retired practitioners as well as those who are earlier in their medical careers to gain experience while pursuing or completing their studies.

She added that a large percentage CVIM's student volunteers are people of color who are often underrepresented in medical schools, and can receive mentorship from retired physicians volunteering with CVIM who many times write them letters of recommendation.

"It is an honor and an inspiration for me to watch retired medical and allied health volunteers put their experience and skills to use while mentoring volunteers headed for medical careers themselves," Spiers said.

Spiers continued that CVIM offers other opportunities for volunteering with patient navigation, contributing as a front desk receptionist and more, adding that the organization is always looking for bilingual volunteers.

If CVIM can raise at least the $500,000 needed to reach the $3 million goal, Spiers said she hopes practicum students of all backgrounds may be able to begin learning and volunteering in the new clinic under the supervision of a nurse practitioner by the end of 2023.

"I would love to see us as a pipeline for getting more diversity in the health field," Spiers said. "And I think that this is the beginning."COURTESY PHOTO: SCARSPONEE JOHNSON  - Left to right: CVIM Executive Director Martha Spiers, Oregon City Garbage owner Pam Bloom, former CVIM Board Chair Petronella Donovan, Advisory Council member Alice Norris, Co-Founder Janet Hochstatter, county H3S Director Rod Cook.

For more information about Clackamas Volunteers in Medicine, click here. Click here for more on CVIM's partnership with Clackamas Community College.


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