There is no way to explain the desperate need at the North Portland Nurse Practitioner Community Health Clinic without sounding peevish or sorrowful.
While both liberal and conservative legislators were pulling punches during the debate about how to save the Oregon Health Plan, Mariah Taylor, Rebecca Hill and Amy Robben were bogged down in a ramshackle, 800-square-foot clinic trying desperately to attend to children and young adults whose lives are mangled by illness and declining health care conditions.
As policymakers tighten Oregon Health Plan eligibility rules or make changes in the services offered in a bid to balance the state's budget, it is expected that more than 100,000 Oregonians will lose coverage if legislators cannot resolve the impasse. In those circumstances, places such as the North Portland clinic become the shelter of last resort.
Last year alone, hampered by dwindling financial support, the clinic still managed to provide more than 2,500 examinations for children, most of them uninsured.
Beyond providing access to basic health care services, the clinic provides education on head lice and the prevention of lead poisoning, nutritional advice and information on kicking the tobacco habit.
But the clinic is finding it increasingly difficult to meet the health care needs of the most vulnerable among us. And that number is increasing. Oregon's high unemployment rate, coupled with funding cutbacks in the Oregon Health Plan, has resulted in more people needing care.
The clinic, heavily dependent upon the good will and generosity of the surrounding community, thus is facing a surge in the need for services while confronting an unprecedented slump in donations and financial support. It suffered a 50 percent reduction in its United Way allocation last year, according to Taylor. And other planned gifts trickle in far more slowly than do clients.
Taylor, through the years, has been a remarkably innovative fund raiser, once landing an appearance on 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' to discuss the clinic.
Now more than ever, the clinic is courting volunteers, conserving resources and cultivating suppliers. In a frantic effort to continue providing services, the clinic is seeking to establish an operating endowment of $150,000, which will be expended between this year and 2008 on basic health care for the uninsured.
Beyond that, the clinic's needs run the gamut from dental floss to floor space. Given the upsurge in demand, the clinic is seeking a new, more spacious building, but it also needs such basics as office supplies, Band-Aids, toothbrushes and paste. There is likewise a desperate shortage of baby formula, strollers and about anything a kid might need.
Taylor, who serves as the clinic's executive director, added one more item to the list: 'We need volunteers proficient in Spanish and other languages,' she said.
If compassion is insufficient motivation, how about selfishness? Keeping this community clinic open will help curtail the use of emergency room services by the uninsured Ñ something that, in turn, will help keep health-insurance premiums that much lower for all of us.