Volunteer dentists and doctors are expanding their mobile services to underserved areas in the Willamette Valley.
Two medical agencies — Kaiser Permanente Northwest and Medical Teams International — are partnering to provide mobile clinics in six Oregon counties and parts of Southwest Washington. They initially will offer 51 mobile clinics in Clackamas, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Washington, and Lane Counties in Oregon, and Cowlitz and Clark counties in Washington. Those services may expand as the program gets underway.
Mobile clinics are a means of connecting low-income and marginalized groups with health care, by making medical services easier to access within their communities.
“We serve a little bit as a bridge between people who are feeling isolated from traditional health care settings and link them to the more appropriate health care that they can access easier,” said Cindy Breilh, Executive Director of U.S. Programs at Medical Teams International.
The Care & Connect clinics will offer emergency dental services, including restorations and extractions, as well as referrals for other low-cost specialty services. Patients can also access medical screenings for hypertension, diabetes, and mental health issues, and get COVID-19 vaccinations and referrals for primary care providers.
Kaiser and Medical Teams are also partnering with other local agencies to provide additional services, such as connecting people with food and housing resources or helping people register for Medicaid.
“Some of [the mobile clinics] are smaller health fairs; some of them are just the mobile clinic,” said Kathy Cereghino, Community Oral Health Consultant with Kaiser. “It all depends upon the community partner and what they’re wanting to offer there.”
In a press release, Kaiser Permanente says it plans to grant 14 community-based and culturally specific organizations with $20,000 each to help host the clinics and support referral work in their local community.
Seven community partners are formalizing their agreements to work with the Care & Connect program through the end of the year, Cereghino said, and each of those will hold between eight and 10 clinics. The program will partner with an additional seven local agencies to continue the program.
Most of the medical and dental professionals at these clinics are volunteers, which has posed a challenge to offering these services. Breilh said volunteerism declined significantly during the pandemic, so Medical Teams is on the lookout for more professionals who are interested in volunteering their time.
“It’s so rewarding to be able to provide health care to people who are so grateful,” Breilh said.