By Leigh Saint-Louis, M.D.
Photos provided by Eugene Weekly: http://www.eugeneweekly.com/20130411/lead-story/occupy-medical
When I arrived downtown, at noon on a hot summer’s day, there was already a long line of patients outside. I hit the ground running. Wash my hands, grab my stethoscope, and we’re ready to roll. I’m one of the Occupy Medical Clinic physicians.
Occupy Medical Clinic started as a first-aid station for protesters in October 2011. It grew organically, adapting to local conditions. Every Sunday, it’s constructed anew, in a bus and two large tents. For four hours a week, it provides medical, nursing, and mental-health care, herbal and nutrition therapy, and assistance in navigating the healthcare maze – all free of charge. Periodic dental, vaccination, and veterinary clinics are held. Patients stop in at Hospitality for a cup of tea or a bite to eat while they wait. Ten to fifteen patients will head to the Gorilla Salon for free “hairapy” (hair therapy), a healing modality that restores self-esteem.
It’s not only free of charge. It’s free of judgment. Nobody asks a patient to prove they’re poor enough to qualify. We’re not worried about “free riders.” Many of our patients are unemployed and struggling, with health problems that can’t wait for better times. Many have insurance, but can’t find a primary doctor. Others have insurance and a primary, but can’t get an appointment when they need it. When you need your asthma inhaler or your birth control pills, you can’t wait six weeks for “the next available.”
When I arrived downtown, some of the nurses and mental-health workers were in a “huddle.” Nurse Bill was saying, “If a chart has a sticker on it — any kind of sticker — that patient needs to be fast-tracked, for their safety. They go to the head of the line.” I was glad to see a Medical Translator arrive; we kept her busy. At one point, we chain-translated, from Haitian Creole to French to Spanish to Medical English, and back again.
The unspoken language of physical medicine, of course, is universal. Touch gently, firmly. Unwrap and look closely. Listen carefully, to the breath in and out, to the heart, softly beating. It’s the same for rich and for poor.
A year ago, we took care of 10-20 patients per Sunday clinic. Six months ago, 20-30. Yesterday, we saw 53 patients – a new patient every five minutes on average.
A Nurse Practitioner came to look around, and stayed to work. I gave her a drive-by orientation, in between seeing a Bipolar patient unable to find a primary doctor, and an 8-year-old with acute vomiting and fever. Pertinent questions included: How do you prescribe medicines, without a scrip pad? How do you order labs, when people can’t pay for them? How do you evaluate dental problems, orthopedic injuries, heart murmurs, skin infections — without x-rays, EKG machines, microscopes, or even running water?
You do the best you can – and surprise yourself with your own ingenuity. Many of us rely on medical cellphone apps, and on our small reference library, and on each other.
Since the bus was now full of practitioners, I saw patients outside, on the park benches. None of them minded. I visited with an older man who was sad because he’d lost his hearing. I irrigated his ears with plain water, sitting in a tent with a cool breeze blowing, until he smiled — he could hear again.
On a bench in the shade, a lady wiped away unexpected tears. “My doctor made me have these expensive tests, but then my insurance wouldn’t pay for them. He won’t see me again, until I pay him the last $400. I’m almost out of my blood pressure medicine. I just don’t know what to do.” She smiled, like sunshine breaking through storm clouds, when I gave her a new prescription, with refills.
A young expectant mother dropped by to let us know that the herbs and vitamins we gave her worked. She’s eating full meals again, and gaining weight normally. Several midwives are on our staff, so she can get questions answered every week, if necessary.
A row of people sat in lawn chairs at the Wound Care station, side by side, pants rolled up, feet in tubs of warm soapy water, joking with each other in the shade. Volunteers sat on the pavement in front of them, carefully washing and dressing their wounds. Nurse Donna rode herd on them, in her cowboy hat, boots, and utility belt. Kids ran around, playing nearby. Summer is the best time for outdoor healthcare.
At the end of the day, I asked our new Nurse Practitioner how it went. Her face fairly glowed. “It’s a lot more fun and exciting than my regular job. Where I work, you can only do what the insurance companies say you can, and it’s cold and sterile. Here, we’re doing the work we’re trained to do – really helping people. Why doesn’t everybody want to do this?”
For more information about Occupy Medical Clinic, visit us any Sunday, 12-4 p.m., 8th and Oak Streets in Eugene, Oregon.
This Sunday, July 21, 2013, Occupy Medical will be setting up shop in a new place. Since there is a conflicting event downtown, the good people who run the Emerald Empire Hempfest offered to share their permit with us so we could still host our weekly free clinic.
You may find our bus parked this Sunday at the end of the Fir Lane parking lot, just off of River Rd. at Maurie Jacobs Park. Volunteers are advised to show up early to help us secure a spot.
OM and EEHF have different mission statements but we both agree that caring for our community is vital. OM can not prescribe medical marijuana or sign medical marijuana cards.
Remember that this festival is free to the public and is family friendly(drug and alcohol free). Come out and enjoy all 3 days of food, crafts. education and entertainment. Please be sure to thank the fine folks at EEHF for sharing their space with us.
Look for OM in our usual spot at the Eugene downtown Park Blocks at 8th and Oak next Sunday between 12-4pm.
Attendees – T, Sue, Karen A., Benjamin, Andrea, Jerry, Ali, Ashley, Jason,
Donna G., Dr. Bruce, Debra, Dr. Leigh, Donna R., Arline Agenda -
Prescription pads have finally arrived and been paid for Salem – The
lobbying went well this Monday. Our people spoke well for the cause. Only 4
people spoke against the bill.
Donations Mt. Rose donated more herbs and capsules. Merry Hempsters donated
Coburg clinic – This opportunity would allow us to use the spot for storage.
Some of the space can be used as a clinic which though it is out of the way,
would be a boon for use.
Springfield Clinic – Sue and Karen will speak with Sprouts to get permission
to run the clinic at the Farmer’s Market there.
Hemp Fest – July 21st the Park Blocks are not
available for clinic. We will need to bring more chairs since there are no
benches. It is at Maurie Jacobs Park. Polk and Fir Lane across the river
from Valley River Center. Porta Potty may be a problem. We consensed that we
use this venue as an alternative to the Park Blocks location for this
Fundraiser – Steel Wool and Satory Bob will provide musical entertainment.
We need to put the flyers together.
Grant – Donna and T will put together the rest of the grant.
Labs – We have lab slips which are available on the clipboard in the slot
with the drug list for ordering labs. We need matching grants for this work.
Any Labs Now and Legacy Labs could offer us matching grants. They have been
slow to respond.
Notes – Donna G. offered to take notes and Karen offered to post them.
Trillium meeting – Cindy Hardin arranged a meeting with Jerry and Donna G to
discuss OM’s mission. They listened to the presentation and was keen about
asking questions. We need more BP cuffs. We should have a list of big ticket
items that we can request.
Wish list – Another Braun ear thermometer. New good bp cuffs New volunteers
were brought into the next room to get volunteer orientation information
Established volunteers stayed in the upstairs room to discuss volunteer
Clinic protection – Incidence reports are needed for situations in which a
volunteer may have behaviors that endanger the clinic or other clinic
We agreed to suspend a volunteer that violates the basic rules as an
emergency measure. The group agreed that serious violation relating to
patient endangerment, volunteer endangerment, HIPAA violations, violations
of our nondiscrimination policy or clinic endangerment are grounds for
immediate suspension by the team leader. The volunteers involved are advised
to write an incident report on the concerns leading to any emergency action.
The next meeting, the volunteer will have the opportunity to address the
(The last agenda item was revisited by the OM. See notes for 4/22/13 for updated information on this topic)
Occupy Medical will be partnering with Lane County’s Department of Health and Human Services once again to provide Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis) vaccines to uninsured adults (aged 19 and up) free of charge. The vaccines will be administered at the May 5th clinic, located at the Park Blocks, between the hours of 12:30pm and 3:30pm.
Throughout the country, we are seeing a startling resurgence of pertussis (whooping cough). This is due to its high communicability (more contagious than the flu) combined with very low rates of adults receiving booster shots (8%). Last spring, our neighbors in Washington saw the highest rates of pertussis since 1942, an epidemic with 4,783 reported cases throughout the State. Although Oregon didn’t suffer to that magnitude, we did see our rates nearly triple from 320 cases in 2011 to 909 cases last year.
The Tdap vaccine should be administered once to adults who did not receive a booster shot as an adolescent. This vaccine became available in 2005 and is different from a Td (tetanus) shot. Those who are in close contact with infants are especially urged to get vaccinated, as the vast majority of deaths from the disease occur in unvaccinated infants. As such, Tdap is also recommended once per pregnancy for women in their 27th – 36th week of gestation in order to maximize the number of antibodies passed to the baby.
Getting vaccinated for pertussis not only protects oneself from contracting the disease, it also prevents the spread of the disease to the larger community through a phenomenon known as “herd immunity”. Our hopes are that with the help of the Department of Health and Human Services, we will be able to get as many people vaccinated as possible. If we all work together, we can prevent a major pertussis outbreak in Lane County.
Last Sunday we had 2 talented visitors from Eugene Weekly: Rob Sydor and Camilla Mortensen. They walked around and respectfully took pictures and asked questions. This is the result of their visit. Thank you, Eugene Weekly, for spreading the good word!
Water is an invaluable commodity at Occupy Medical. Although there is a drinking fountain at the park that we have our clinic, getting ready access for wound treatment is a constant struggle. Our clinic, like other medical facilities, needs a steady stream of clean, abundant water. We have dehydrated patients that require water for drinking. We need to clean instruments and soak patients feet and hands. We have to apply moistened pads to swollen tissue. The list is endless.
The local cafes have generously provided hot water for emergency wound care but this means sending a nurse across the park with a thermos to fill. In an emergency, time is of the essence. This is why one of our volunteers, Patti Leahy, approached our local Artesian water supplier for help. This company has been a trusted source of pure H2O in BPA free bottles for decades.
As usual, McKenzie Mist saw the need and filled it. They have donated 3 -3 gallon jugs of their finest water (plus a pump) to refilled by their company as often as we need it.
We at Occupy Medical thank you. You stepped in when we needed it most.
Hi Occupy Med folks: We now have a volunteer log! We’re doing this for grant purposes. I (Brooke) have created many different versions for people’s needs. There is a pdf version for printing, a word doc, open office doc, open office spreadsheet, and excel. If you go to the documents page you’ll see them at the bottom. Questions or problems? Ask Brooke! (I am here to serve [not just the patients]).
These were compiled by our statistician, Brooke. They are rough and will get better as more data is entered:
Between 10/21/12 and 2/3/13 we had 297 individual patient visits.
- We had 15 clinics during that time.
- We saw on average of 20 people during that time
- The youngest person we saw during that time was 13
- The oldest person we saw was 80
- The average age was 43
- 50% of our patients were 46 and older
- 50% of our patients were under the age of 46
- 48% had been to the clinic before
- 52% had not been to the clinic before
Between 2-13-12 and 2-10-13, across 21 different clinics we filled, and obtained payment for, 226 prescriptions.
- That means we average filling, and getting paid for, 10 prescriptions per clinic time.