Collaborations attempt to remove barriers of care

11/01/17  Portland, OR

Free clinic for underserved patients opened Saturday, Oct. 7, at Transition Project’s Clark Center Annex

At more than 30 percent, Portland’s rate of chronic homelessness is twice the national average. This population lacks adequate shelter for more than a year, or experiences houselessness at least four times a year over three years, and suffers from serious physical or mental conditions.

Although many of these individuals qualify for and have enrolled in state-funded health programs, even the most basic health care needs may still go unmet due to inability to access clinics, lack of transportation to scheduled appointments and the ability to navigate health care systems.

Students from OHSU, Oregon State University and Portland State University, in collaboration with Transition Projects, faculty advisers and community experts, are determined to help remove these barriers to care. On October 7, they conducted their first day of appointments at the Bridges Collaborative Care Clinic, a free, student-led health clinic operated by medical, nursing, dentistry, public health and pharmacy students.

Collaboration for BridgesAlexandria Yeo, former co-chair and OHSU Nursing student says, “I remember arriving early to set up the first day of clinic and being met by my fellow two co-chairs and team leads from Program Development, Resource Management, and Quality Improvement. As we positioned exam tables, clinic forms, and hand sanitizers, I thought about how everything was coming together; after two years and hundreds of students’ efforts, we were finally setting up for our first clinic.”

“Bridges focuses on transitional care. We will serve as the first point of health care for individuals with limited access to existing services,” said Zoe Teton, clinic co-chair and third-year student in the OHSU School of Medicine. “Our goal is to help meet the needs of this population, regardless of insurance status, and assist them in developing a long-term primary care plan that includes access to community health care providers.”

Located at the Clark Center Annex in inner Portland, Bridges offers services such as health screenings, social services and health education courses two Saturdays a month under the supervision of licensed health care practitioners. While clientele will be limited to Clark Center residents to start, student leaders hope to increase both the clinic size and frequency to allow more participants access to services. A Bridges clinic focused on basic dental care is expected to open at Transitions Projects’ Bud Clark Commons in Portland’s Pearl District sometime next year.

While student-run free clinics have had a long history of helping to meet the needs of underserved populations in the community, they also serve a second, and equally important, purpose: they enrich students’ professional education.

“I’ve learned so many aspects of building an organization; this ranges from large aspects like legal coverage to granular things like the cost of a dental chair (very expensive). One of the most important things I learned is the power of interprofessional leadership and how it can provide perspective,” Yeo says.

“We don’t receive a paycheck or school credit for our work with Bridges,” explained Tom Foley, a third-year community health Ph.D. student at the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health and Bridges’ co-lead for training and education. “Instead, we receive real-world, hands-on experience across all aspects of health care, from clinical to business. We engage with patients who need our help and collaborate with peers working in other health care disciplines. We learn experientially beyond our classroom walls. Its invaluable.”

Get involved

Currently the leadership team is looking for more nursing students to join the clinic leadership teams. Fill out the volunteer form at the Bridges website to get involved.