Patients line the block for health care in Tigard

by: Submitted photo Beaverton dentist Tim Murphy examines a boy at Compassion Tigard, a free one-day health clinic held Saturday at Tigard High School.

TIGARD - By 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, the line outside of Tigard High School stretched around the building. Hundreds stood in the cold, early morning hours waiting for an opportunity many take for granted: They all hoped to see a doctor.

Compassion Tigard, the one-day health clinic, provided free medical services, dental and vision care to uninsured people across the Portland area.

'These are people who basically need to be seen by a doctor, but for whatever reason, their access is limited,' said Tim Murphy, a Beaverton dentist who volunteered at the clinic.

'If they don't have the Oregon Health Plan, they normally have to sacrifice something out of the food budget or the gas budget in order to get things done,' he said. 'But when you have limited funds, a lot of times that's not an option. It's nice to be able to meet that need for them.'

This is the second year for the event.

'Last year, when it started, we didn't know what to expect,' said Justin Peterson, who organized the event with Compassion Connect. 'We didn't know if anyone would come until we realized there was such a great need here.'

Peterson estimated about 700 people were able to get treatment in a variety of areas, including dental, vision, chiropractic, medical treatments and haircuts.

'We were able to serve more than we did last year,' said Carol Renaud, spokeswoman for the district's Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative, which helped put on the event.

'We had more doctors, more dentists and more volunteers. It went really well and we will continue to have them,' she said.

Compassion Connect hosts health clinics throughout the Portland area, teaming up with local churches and schools to provide free healthcare to as many people as they can.

'These are people who are really dire,' Renaud said. 'They don't have anything else. Some people are coming in sick and need treatment, others have questions like 'I've been feeling a pain here for months, what is it?' People come for a wide range of issues.'

Patients waited in hallways and corridors for their turn and were treated on a first-come, first-served basis.

In the school's main lobby, children waited for haircuts and others ate free sandwiches provided by the Tigard-Tualatin School District.

Many patients waited silently in the hallways for their appointments; others were provided special translators to help get their questions answered.

Classrooms were transformed into make-shift doctors offices. Desks and chairs stacked in corners of the room of Kristy Stenberg's math class made room for mobile dentists chairs and medical equipment.

'I came here to get help with the dental,' said Kerri, a Hillsboro-woman who asked that her last name not be used. 'And I was able to get a lot of resources here that are really valuable.'

Kerri said she heard about the Tigard clinic through her brother, who was treated at a similar event in Beaverton.

'The dentist there couldn't see him and said for us to come here today, so that's why we're here,' she said.

Kerri hasn't had dental insurance for 20 years, she said, but was able to make payments on her dental visits in the past.

When her dentist stopped allowing her to make payments, she said she had no other place to go.

Too late

While hundreds of patients were treated during Compassion Tigard, hundreds more were turned away.

'I wanted to get some dental work done, or at least get something looked at,' said Elisa, a Tigard mother of four who arrived at 7 a.m. 'But I was too late. They told us in the dental line that they weren't taking any more patients. The person in front of us got there at 5 a.m. and they didn't get seen either.'

Elisa was able to get some other medical conditions looked at while she was at the Tigard clinic, she said, and despite not getting the treatment she had expected, she said she was glad that the clinic was there.

'I don't have another option, and my daughters don't have other options,' she said. 'It's important that they do these so some people can get this done. For some people these are life-and-death situations.'

Peterson estimated that there were about 400 more people seeking services that the doctors weren't able to see, though organizers did refer those people to other free or sliding-scale clinics in the area.

'You do what you can and are excited about the people that you are able to help, but at the end of the day it is still difficult to see people that have to be turned away.'

Plans are in the works to hold another one-day clinic next October, Peterson said.