Free mobile clinics in Oregon that “drop the barriers” to health care

Galdina Sanchez Cruz, 43, had never been to a dentist before showing up at a mobile dental clinic on Saturday at Chemeketa Community College in Salem.

Her teeth had been aching for nearly a year when a neighbor told her about the free mobile clinics that were held regularly throughout Oregon and Washington.

Medical Teams International and Kaiser Permanente teamed up with Mano a Mano Family Center to hold the only Saturday.

The clinic, housed in a large red bus, provided on-site dental care, COVID-19 vaccinations, diabetes tests, general health screenings, and health navigation services such as helping people find primary care doctors or access insurance coverage.

Cruz got a filling and extraction on the dental bus.

“I am happy because I will no longer have this pain and I can feel comfortable,” he said through a translator.

After checking in, community members were able to learn about other health resources such as Salem Free Clinics, which provides free medical and dental care, as well as counseling services. Mano a Mano staff also distributed food boxes containing items such as rice, beans, chicken and dried chillies.

Offering a helping hand

Mano a Mano already provides health navigation services through its community of health workers, as well as support with education, housing, and social justice for Latin communities in western Oregon.

They said the need for access to medical and dental care is huge within Latin communities.

“We just want to be that helping hand,” said Maria Jaramillo, director of Mano a Mano’s family wellness program.

Cruz doesn’t speak English, which can be a barrier to accessing health care. Language barriers can make communicating health needs difficult, and although translation services are often available, it can still be confusing, explained Jaramillo, of Mano a Mano.

Additionally, people may not be able to take off work to get to appointments or don’t understand what kind of health benefits they can access.

“Our health system is incredibly confusing,” said Catherine Potter, senior program manager of community and social health at Kaiser Permanente. “Even people who have coverage don’t know what their coverage includes.”

The clinics are funded by Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit Dollars and all services provided are free. Community partners are awarded grants to support the clinic’s operations.

Breaking down the barriers

Serving the community using a mobile clinic model is nothing new to Kaiser Permanente or the medical teams.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the two organizations collaborated to provide mobile COVID-19 vaccinations and clinical trials, focusing on serving rural communities in Oregon and Washington.

In 2021, 12,153 vaccinations were administered in 298 community clinics across the Pacific Northwest, Potter said.

He said one thing became clear through that work: “People facing obstacles to obtaining COVID vaccinations face obstacles to obtaining other types of treatment.”

Related:COVID-19 has worsened health inequalities for communities of color, according to the report

When they reached out to community organizations to better understand these barriers, many communicated the need for dental care.

By partnering with Medical Teams, which have been providing mobile medical and dental services for decades, Kaiser Permanente was able to help create an initiative that “addresses the health needs of the community broadly,” Potter said.

‘Care and connect’

The joint Care and Connect program begins by providing essential care to communities in mobile clinics. From there, community members can move on to more sustainable and consistent care at local primary care and counseling offices.

They hope to reach people who may be confused or fearful of entering the health system.

“This brings the joy of our team to be able to go out and reach people,” said Cindy Breilh, executive director of US programs at Medical Teams International.

About 25 percent of the population in Oregon is on Medicaid, while 6 percent are uninsured, Breilh said.

“There are many people who may feel deprived of civil rights by our health system,” he said.

They serve anyone who comes to their clinics, including the elderly, veterans, people of color, farm workers, and homeless people.

“We don’t want our assistance to be inferior to the best when serving these populations,” Breilh said.

Through the Care and Connect program, Medical Teams staff have completed 16,206 dental procedures at 487 clinics to date. Almost 41% of the patients served were people of color.

The clinic on Saturday accepted visits on a first-come, first-served basis, without an appointment. He assisted 225 people on Saturday, Mano a Mano told the Statesman Journal.

Additional free clinics are planned for the coming weeks in Oregon and Washington.

To find a clinic near you, visit medicalteams.org/how-we-heal/mobile-dental-program/emergency-dental-clinics/. Not listed is a clinic in Eugene which will be held from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm Saturday, October 29 at the Latin American Center, 944 W. 5th Ave.

Another option is the White Bird Dental Clinic, which offers emergency, preventative, and restorative dental care to people who may not be insured, underinsured, low-income, or homeless and who may otherwise run out of care, at 1415 Pearl St. walk-in clinics at 7:30 am Monday and Wednesday. Information at https://whitebirdclinic.org/dental or call 541-344-8302.

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