Volunteers tend to medical concerns of the needy, both two-legged and four-legged

Discover why scores of volunteers – from doctors, nurses, and dental professionals, to veterinarians – gave up a Saturday in June to provide compassionate care to the disadvantaged in Southeast Portland …

Patent Mary Roland gets medical attention from Dr. Roy Jan, MD, a physician practicing at Providence St. Vincent Hospital.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Things took a turn for the better for hundreds of the homeless, jobless, and working poor in SE Portland, when the Compassion Southeast volunteers once again took over Woodmere Elementary School on SE Duke Street on June 20.

More than three hundred people got needed medical and dental care, learned about social services assistance available – and dined on a free barbecue lunch – thanks to the non-profit organization called “Compassion Connect“, and also to a coalition of churches, social service organizations, and individual volunteers.

Cathy Blakeman, a member of the “Follow-up Team”, takes a moment to talk with her husband, Clark Blakeman, the chair of Compassion Southeast.

“We’re here ‘lovin’ on people’ here in southeast Portland,” is how Clark Blakeman, the event’s Chair, explained the massive undertaking that involved turning classrooms into medical, dental, and chiropractic clinics, and the school’s gym into a social services fair – plus the front playground into dining room that fed about 1,000 guests and volunteers during the day.

“There is a genuine need here, in this part of Portland,” Blakeman noted. “This is a critical time, because of the economic challenges with which so many people are wrestling. For those on the verge of poverty, or who don’t have adequate insurance, the economy really exacerbates their situation.”

Dental hygienist Karyn Green examines patient Jose Balboa, as the event’s dental coordinator, Robin Rigutto, looks on.

Dentists dedicate the day to service
The event’s dental coordinator, dental hygienist Robin Rigutto, observed, “For those who’ve lost their jobs, dental insurance is the first thing to go. Many we’re seeing today have put off dental care because of more urgent expenses. We’re seeing some real need here; some people are in a lot of pain; some need extractions today.”

To help those with more complicated problems, two dentists – Dr. Nappy Lam at SE 56th Avenue at Foster Road, and Dr. Ryan Blair from SE 76th Street at Powell Boulevard – served all day, dedicating themselves and their staffs to Compassion Southeast patients.

In addition to the examinations and the care provided at the clinic, patients met with a “follow-up team” who connected them with services once they left the event. “We make sure patients learn about health resources that are available to them,” said Cathy Blakeman, between patients.

Snowball, an American Eskimo dog, gets a careful examination by volunteer veterinarian Allen Lipman from Dove Lewis Animal Hospital.

Critter care provided
At this year’s event, people weren’t the only beneficiaries; free and low-cost veterinary care was also available for pets. In the school’s back parking lot and playground, a line of pet owners queued up with their dogs and cats.

Rena Bafico was calming her dog, Angelique, as Sarah Savage, a veterinary technician volunteer, drew blood for tests. “This is truly wonderful,” Bafico said. “I love my dog so much, but I can’t afford medical care for her right now. I wish there were something I could do to help repay these people for their kindness.”

Burger chef Bob Goodwin, a Mt. Scott Church of God member, says, “Volunteering, in anyway that I can, is doing God’s work.”

Sue Locke and Chris Anderson, MD, family physicians at Providence Milwaukie Hospital, look over the medical chart for their next patient.

Faith in put into action
Blakeman told us that most of the 300 volunteers at the event were, primarily, from thirteen area faith groups. “We rely on the churches to help recruit volunteers, but we welcome all who want to help. Our volunteers are representing eight different denominations; others are from nondenominational groups.”

Asked what the volunteers all have in common, Blakeman responded, “It’s like they’re saying, ‘Let’s rally together as people who care about those in real need, and let’s do something about it, in a tangible way’.”

As Dr. Chris Anderson, MD, a family physician at Providence Milwaukie Hospital, prepared for his next patient, he commented, “I go to a church called Imago Dei; we’re very active in community service. I’m here today is an expression of my Christian faith.”

Helping clients of the clinic also look their best is hair stylist Kim Fredrickson, of Fredrickson Hair Studio in Oak Grove.

Expanding their mission
Their project began with an organization called “Compassion Connect”, Blakeman explained – an organization started in the Rockwood area. “We replicated their model to four sites last year. This year, we will hold events at eight locations.”

In addition to helping those in need throughout the city, he said their goal is to hold Compassion events more frequently – perhaps twice or three times each year.

Cared for by ‘angels’
In the hallway, Mary Roland sat patiently, waiting to be seen Dr. Roy Jan, MD, a physician practicing at Providence St. Vincent Hospital. She said she traveled from Milwaukie, hoping to get medical care.

“There are a lot of us out there who can’t get medical care otherwise,” Roland said. “I’m totally unemployed, I have no insurance, and I don’t qualify for the Oregon Health Plan.  So, I really need to be seen, somehow, for medical care.”

A facilitator called Roland’s name. As she walked in for her examination, she turned and told us, “The people who do this are angels, plain and simple. There simply is no other word for it.”

To learn more about this group, see their website: www.compassionse.org.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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