In four hours, students provide health care to more than 265 of Portland’s underserved

March 25, 2013

Despite the chilly temperature, tricky traffic and parking due to the Shamrock Run, and an early start time on a Sunday morning, students and Portland’s underserved came together for a special day

On March 17, more than 120 students and faculty from OHSU joined forces to offer a free health care fair to Portland’s underserved community. The fair was held in conjunction with the weekly free meal service “Potluck in the Park,” and took place in the parking garage beneath O’Bryant Square.

Basic hygiene supplies and an array of health care services were available to more than 265 underserved Oregonians, who lined up around the block in anticipation.

Services included blood pressure and temperature checks, vaccinations, diabetes foot care and education, and hearing, vision and oral health screenings. People with significant vision or oral health problems were referred to two dental vans and a Casey Eye Institute mobile clinic parked along O’Bryant Square.

“It was great to see multiple disciplines working alongside each other,” said Danielle Babbel, MS2, co-chair of the event. “It was a reminder of how we as health professionals can work in teams to promote community health.”

The gratitude of the fair’s participants was palpable, and the months of organizing and preparation for the fair were made worth it by the grins of those who were able to get a haircut, have their teeth cleaned, or receive a prescription for eyeglasses or a referral for long-term care of a chronic illness. Fair volunteers said they gained “just as much” from providing the health fair’s services as did those who received them.

“The fair offered more health care than many of the participants had received all year. I am grateful to have been able to be a part of something so basic, yet so valuable to the health and well-being of both individuals and the community as a whole,” said Babbel.

The health fair took place on the last day of Health Care Equality Week (HCEW), capping off a week of OHSU faculty lectures related to providing health care for the underserved. HCEW events are designed to raise awareness about disparities in the U.S. health care system.

“Seeing such a large collection of aspiring health care professionals put in so much time and energy to make this day happen was incredibly inspiring,” said Seth Meyer, MS2, who was in charge of public relations for the event. “It was truly humbling to be able to play a small role in helping so many people get the care they need.”

Students from Portland State University, Oregon State University, Western University of Health Sciences’ College of Osteopathic Medicine, the National College of Natural Medicine and AVEDA hair salon, also helped plan the fair, delivering veterinary care, social services resources and referrals and free haircuts.

“I was very impressed by the students’ energy and creativity in organizing the health fair – with students from all the professions pitching in and working together,” said Paul Gorman, MD, MPH, an associate professor of medical informatics & clinical epidemiology. “It really showed their commitment to serving people who need health care, and you could tell that the people who came to the fair were very grateful for their efforts.”

More on the Student Health Fair