Occupy Medical

Benjamin Hunt Cuts Hair

Benjamin hunt cuts hair at the Gorilla Salon

It’s a chilly April day with bursts of sunshine interspersed with blustery wind and rain. It’s not the worst day to be on the streets of Eugene, but it’s not the best day either, especially if you’re ill. The cold wind cuts through you and the rain soaks you, making the shaking and chills of fever feel that much worse; the moments of sun remind you that you have nowhere warm and dry to be, and no one to take care of you.

What do you do if you are homeless, uninsured or just plain broke and you’re sick? Where do you go if you do have a home but the waiting list is too long at the clinic or your insurance isn’t good enough to get you the care you need?

“You can’t just not help people,” says herbalist Sue Sierralupe. She’s the clinic manager for Occupy Medical, a team of volunteers who donate their time, skills and care to making sure anyone and everyone in Eugene has access to health care. From a patient’s perspective, it’s what single-payer health care looks like, Sierralupe says, and it’s free.

On Sundays from noon until 4 pm you can walk up to the former bloodmobile painted red and white and emblazoned “Occupy Medical Mobile Clinic,” that’s parked downtown at the Park Blocks and get anything from a Band-Aid to a prescription for heart medicine. You can also get food, a haircut and proof that someone cares.

Health Care for Everyone

Kathy, wearing leather pants and a pink top and combat boots with pink shoelaces, has just been on the Occupy Medical bus to see Dr. Leigh Saint-Louis. Afterward, she lingers and chats with some of the volunteers, Occupiers and patients who surround the bus and medical tents. Some drink tea; others eat food brought this time by Central Presbyterian Church and other times by Food Not Bombs. A disheveled couple sits on a bench, a little at a distance, agitated, somewhat aggressive, but dealt with carefully by the volunteers of Occupy Medical, who want to make sure the couple gets the health care they need, despite behaviors that might get them kicked out of a conventional medical office.

Kathy’s medical needs are a little unconventional. She was the eldest son of a Florida cop, she says, and she has been on the road since she was 13, recently spending 14 months in a recovery house. She’s transgender, male-to-female, and has begun taking hormones. Finding a doctor who is not only sympathetic but understands the medical needs of someone who is transgender is not easy, but Kathy found Saint-Louis (or as the Occupiers call her, Dr. Leigh) and Occupy Medical, who not only treat her for free, but recommended a method of taking the hormones that was better than the estrogen pills Kathy was taking.
Photos by Rob Sydor. Kathy awaits her appointment with Dr. Saint-Louis
Occupy Medical‘s revamped bloodmobile
Sue Sierralupe

Everything at the clinic is at no cost to the patients and everything is donated, from the work of Saint-Louis and two other medical doctors, to bandages and prescriptions. It’s truly universal health care, or as Sierralupe says, what single-payer could be. Single-payer is basically when one entity, a government-run organization, collects all health care fees and pays out all health care costs. It gets rid of administrative overhead and the confusion of billing.

In the case of Occupy Medical (OM), someone like Kathy can come to the bus, get checked in at the intake tent — OM takes names and birthdates for records tracking but allows people to remain anonymous — get medical care, wound care, medicines or herbs, if they prefer them to pharmaceuticals, and treatment. All in one place and all for free. Care in single-payer is based on need, not on the ability to pay. At Occupy Medical all the care is at no cost to the patient, and no one is turned away. “You don’t have to come to our clinic and prove that you are poor enough to need our services,” Saint-Louis says. “You don’t have to show us you’re uninsured.” The clinic treats everyone and anyone, first-come, first-served.

“We’re really showing people what it would be like if people really had direct access to health care regardless of their income status,” Saint-Louis says. Patients come with anything from wounds that need first aid, to chronic conditions like diabetes that require monitoring.

Gorilla Salon

Julie Lambert stopped by Occupy to get some medical issues taken care of, and says that while there she fortuitously discovered the hair care salon. She’s been in between jobs, but full of hope about her upcoming job interviews. “My confidence is high,” she says as hairstylist Benjamin Hunt snips at her long, curly hair. “And it adds to my confidence that I look good,” she says.

Hunt, retired from London Hair Salon and Spa in Eugene, donates his hair care skills to Occupy Medical. “This is more fun than I’ve ever had in my life,” he says, wearing his red Occupy bandana and wielding a spray bottle and scissors. He calls the tent where he sets up his hair salon a “gorilla” salon, not a “guerilla” salon, because, as Lambert pipes up, “gorillas groom one another.”

Hunt says as he works on people’s hair, he can also talk to them, “psycho-hair-apy,” he continues with the wordplay. But as much fun as Hunt has, he takes it seriously, too. While he trims, cuts and combs, people tell him things in the comfort of a nonmedical setting that can help their treatment when they see the doctor. It’s part of the mental health aspect of Occupy Medical. The attention makes people feel better about themselves and look better as they apply for jobs or go about their day. Hunt says he sees about 10 to 12 people during his Sunday stints. Sometimes it’s for a full cut and sometimes, as in the case of a young man named Marcus, who comes in once a week, he just combs the tangles out of his long hair. It’s a human connection that treats the body and the mind.

Meeting People Where They Are

Brooke Robertshaw is OM’s statistician, as well as pharmacist’s assistant. She has a Ph.D. in instructional technology and runs the numbers: In the once-a-week four-hour sessions OM sees about 40 patients, helps about 10 people get prescriptions and has about a 40 percent plus return rate. Many of those prescriptions are for heart conditions, she says, as she ducks under one of the Occupy Medical tents to get out of the rain.

“We meet people where they are,” Robertshaw echoes the statements of other volunteers. She expects the numbers to go up as more and more people hear about the clinic. The addition of the bus earlier this year increased the numbers because the visibility of the clinic increased, and she says as the health care safety net becomes even less of a safety net and as more people come through town in the summer months, she expects the number of patients to go up. “This clinic meets a need others miss,” she says.

“People get turned away for the smallest infractions,” Becca Perry, OM’s mental health coordinator, says of other medical clinics. She says for the mentally ill, their behavior has historically often kept them from accessing health care. Because Occupy Medical is partially outside — two or three tents are pitched near the bus — the volunteers can see people outdoors, not in a traditional medical setting that might make them feel trapped, bring back bad experiences or just plain make them nervous.

Sierralupe says that just giving someone something basic, like vitamins or Band-Aids can make a difference. Just like one tiny negative thing can be what sends someone over the edge, one tiny positive thing can start an avalanche of care, she says. “We give them the help when they need it in the place where they will accept it,” she says.

“You simply have to keep the momentum going in a positive direction,” she says. “Our little clinic does just that. We give little nudges. That’s why we get to see so many people turn their lives around. That’s why we get to see so many miracles.”

It Takes a Village

The list of those who donate to Occupy Medical is long and growing all the time. Sierralupe says sometimes people just drop by with things they think might be needed. Full City Coffee, which sits only yards from the weekend parking spot for the bus, has given the group hot water for wound care. McKenzie Mist has donated three 3-gallon jugs of water, to be refilled as needed, and a pump. The city of Eugene set up a Porta-Potty (necessary for pregnancy and urine tests), and help and medical supplies have come from Lane County Public Health, St. Vincent de Paul, Medical Teams International, PeaceHealth, Sacred Heart and Whitebird Clinic.

The bus itself is the result of grants from the Oregon Community Foundation that CALC (Community Alliance of Lane County) helped Occupy Medical write, Sierralupe says. In addition to Saint-Louis and the medical doctors, the clinic has pharmacists, nurses, nursing students, massage therapists and volunteers from all walks of life.

Saint-Louis has been volunteering with Occupy Medical for about a year; she started after seeing media reports about the free downtown clinic. Sierralupe was part of the beginning of Occupy Medical at the Eugene Occupy camp that was later shut down by the police. She and other medics were treating people at the camp in a first-aid tent. Slowly the medical cases became more complicated than basic first aid as people realized that there was somewhere to get help.

After the Occupy camp was shut down in December 2011, those people, some of whom had serious medical conditions, lost that access to care. So in February 2012, the medics began offering free medical care downtown, and Occupy Medical was born.

Julie Lambert sends an email a couple days after her trip to Occupy Medical and haircut: “There’s more to the story,” she writes: “I nailed all three job interviews I had this week, so now I can choose how I work.”

She says that when she was in Arizona she was making more than $50,000 annually, but, “when I came here, I had no job, no friends or family locally, only a fierce determination to become successful, and my medical needs threatened that.”

Occupy Medical provides hope, Lambert writes, and “sometimes, that is all a person needs to stay in forward motion.” Her trip to Occupy Medical gave her what she needed to recover, she says, and she will now be volunteering there so she can pay it forward.

“Our job is to heal, not to judge,” Sierralupe says.

You can find Occupy Medical from noon to 4 pm Sundays at the Park Blocks (8th and Oak). The list of donors as well as the list of needs is long. Go to occupymedics.wordpress.com or call 541-316-5743 for more information, to volunteer, donate or find out more about getting help.


The gaps in American health care coverage are many, but so are the groups who try to fill those gaps: Volunteers in Medicine (VIM), Whitebird Clinic and community health centers, such as RiverStone, operate alongside Occupy Medical in Lane County.

DeLeesa Meashintubby gave up a more lucrative health-care career to work her way up from phlebotomist to the executive director of the VIM clinic. She says more than 78,000 people in Lane County are uninsured, and VIM gives care to those uninsured people ages 18 to 64. “That’s a small town of its own,” Meashintubby says.

If the clinic has to turn someone away then that person is given a referral sheet for everything from dental care (Whitebird and LCC) to eye care (the Lion’s Club) and Meashintubby says she and other doctors and volunteers often make calls to help people out because “We want to make it easy on the patient.”

The Springfield VIM clinic, which has a bus stop just outside its doors, has 13 exam rooms and sees 500 patients a month. To be seen at VIM your income for the past three months has to be between 85 and 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and you can’t be eligible for care through any other health care provider. It offers care to undocumented immigrants, as well as translators to those who don’t speak English.

VIM is gearing up for its big annual fundraiser, One Fine Day on April 17, with “a silent auction composed of fashion accessories (handbags, scarves and jewelry), art pieces, gift certificates, luggage, antiques and more.” Last year’s event raised $300,000.


Original article: http://www.eugeneweekly.com/20130411/lead-story/occupy-medical

Occupy Good Health

Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

Steve Hayes winced as a nurse washed his left hand, which was turning all kinds of queasy colors around an open wound right between his thumb and first finger.

“You’ve got to wash this with soap and water,” Susan Sanazaro explained as she gently cleaned out an oozing hole the size of a quarter. “And then you want to cover it and change the dressing every day.”

Hayes, 35, was one of more than a dozen patients who showed up Sunday for Occupy Eugene’s free weekly medical clinic in downtown’s Park Blocks.

The Eugene man, who works in a call center and doesn’t have health insurance, said he spilled boiling hot water on his hand five days ago while making tea for himself. He hadn’t seen a doctor until now because he couldn’t afford one, he said.

“Thank you so much for helping,” he said to Sanazaro as he stood up to leave, a fresh white bandage now wrapped around the burned hand. “This was starting to get a little depressing, frankly.”

Based since last month in a converted bloodmobile that was given by an anonymous donor, the Occupy Eugene medical clinic got its start in a tent earlier this year.

The clinic operates from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. It sees all patients at no charge and is staffed by a regular group of 23 volunteer doctors, nurses and other health care workers.

For clinic coordinator Sue Sierralupe, an herbalist in her day job, the Occupy clinic opens a window into the cracks and fissures of America’s health care system.

Only 40 percent of its patients are homeless. “The rest are working people with no insurance,” she says.

That describes Bruce Nelson, a 50-year-old mechanic who drove up on Sunday from Yoncalla – for the second time in two weeks – to get medical attention for a problem with his foot.

He’s just taken a new job, he explained while waiting to be seen by the Occupy doctor, and won’t have health insurance until January.

Nelson isn’t quite certain about the politics of Occupy Eugene. The organization grew out of last year’s Occupy Wall Street protests, which condemn the wide social and economic inequalities in countries such as the United States.

But Nelson endorses the clinic wholeheartedly.

“I don’t know the whole story behind it,” he said. “I don’t know what all this is. But I think they’re great.

“This is a great opportunity for people like me who don’t have health insurance to get to see a doctor.”

Occupy’s medical bus is set up much like a conventional doctor’s office, only much smaller. When you walk in the front door, you sit down, practically knee to knee, with a nursing student who fills out some very basic paperwork about you and your medical issues.

Pass through a curtain into another tiny chamber and you sit down with a doctor, who might write a prescription or, as in Hayes’ case, send you through to the next small room for a nurse to clean and bandage your wound.

Deborah Frisch, the clinic’s “data management coordinator,” shared a handwritten list of patients from the past two weeks (their names carefully removed to ensure privacy) along with diagnoses.

They included, in order from a recent Sunday, unspecified “lesions,” an infected cyst, an elbow injury, respiratory infection, bipolar disorder, a hernia, gingivitis, two cases of asthma and an ear infection – the kind of illnesses and injuries that might be seen in any more-upscale doctor’s office.

But this isn’t an ordinary doctor’s office in another important sense.

Frisch explained that a young pregnant woman recently came in to seek help for what turned out to be false labor. The usual therapy, Frisch explained, is to send the patient home with a prescription for a hot bath and relaxation.

This woman, though, lived with her boyfriend in a tent. Occupy found them a warm place to stay for the night, Frisch said.

Besides its charitable aspects, Sierralupe points out practical advantages that the Occupy Eugene medical bus brings to the community.

It could, she says, serve as a frontline defense against the advance of such diseases as pertussis, also known as whooping cough, which has been spreading at a high rate in Washington state and is on the rise in Lane County, as well.

It makes straightforward fiscal sense, she says, to vaccinate and treat people early on for a disease like pertussis instead of letting it establish a foothold in the community.

“Two weekends ago, half of the patients we saw had a bronchial condition of some kind,” she said. “There are a lot of smokers in this population. Their immune systems are constantly at risk.

“Bronchitis is just crazy high in this area.”

But the clinic is facing obstacles.

There are, for example, no public restrooms on the Park Blocks; the nearest public toilet is a couple of blocks away. That affects patients and volunteers alike.

“We have a lot of senior citizens with a wealth of experience who would like to volunteer,” she says, “but they need regular restroom breaks.”

From such humble beginnings, Sierralupe hopes, a grass-roots health care revolution eventually might grow.

“I would love to see more buses like this all over Oregon,” she says. “But we’re the only Occupy medical clinic in the country.”

Original article: http://www.registerguard.com/web/updates/29061962-47/clinic-occupy-eugene-medical-health.html.csp

Occupy Eugene clinic provides free medical aid to those who can’t afford it

Reverend Marc Time, KWVA's award-winning radio host of The Sunday Morning Hangover, recently cut a hole in his foot while taking out the garbage. Time visited a free Eugene medical clinic sponsored by Occupy Eugene off 7th and Pearl to have it looked at by retired pediatrist Jerry Zook. Tme, a 20-year disc jockey, has no health insurance. (Nate Barrett/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Reverend Marc Time, KWVA’s award-winning radio host of The Sunday Morning Hangover, recently cut a hole in his foot while taking out the garbage. Time visited a free Eugene medical clinic sponsored by Occupy Eugene off 7th and Pearl to have it looked at by retired pediatrist Jerry Zook. Tme, a 20-year disc jockey, has no health insurance. (Nate Barrett/Oregon Daily Emerald)


Occupy Eugene organized a free medical clinic held Sunday afternoon, providing on-the-spot care by volunteer doctors at the promenade of the Eugene Federal Building.

The group has arranged roughly a dozen such clinics since October and plans to continue them, announcing times, locations and volunteer needs through its website.

The majority of patients were seen by one of two doctors: David Knowlton, M.D. and Peter Howison, M.D.

Knowlton’s first patient was Weston, a 21-year-old Eugenean and a walking exemplification of the Occupy movement’s local manifestation.

He has no state ID, no birth certificate and no social security card.

“I actually prefer it this way. I don’t get involved with all this corporate (business). I’ll find a job by word of mouth. I’ll be an apprentice. Socialism takes time and it’s hard, but it’s worth it,” Weston said.

But it’s also difficult to get medical treatment when you’re off the grid.

Weston claims to be one of 40 initial recruits at the start of the Occupy Eugene movement who were assigned to distribute flyers on campus prior to the first march.

Knowlton saw several other patients throughout his shift, including University students — none of whom chose to comment.

Knowlton, a doctor at McKenzie Family Practice in Eugene, began his career working on Washington’s Makah Indian reservation.

“Before I even went to medical school, I wanted to do need-based rural medicine. I wanted to give back to a decimated culture,” Knowlton said.

“When I heard about the Occupy thing, it was still just a march in New York City, but then it kept on happening. When it came here, I checked it out. I wanted to get involved.”

On Oct. 16th, 2011, Knowlton went to the group’s temporary headquarters and said, “what can I do?” He then signed up for a shift in their newly erected medical tent.

“The system is so broken that it’s a caricature of its own self. It’s in a crippled state of disrepair,” Knowlton said. “I hope this will raise consciousness. People will wonder why it’s only us out there doing this.”

In the midst of volunteers still laying out sanitary equipment and erecting the tent poles, a familiar voice could be overheard — that of Marc Time, guest host of KWVA’s “The Sunday Morning Hangover” program. Time, who is both unemployed and uninsured, came in search of care relating to a recent early morning mishap.

“A couple of weeks ago I forgot to put the garbage out, and then I suddenly heard the truck coming down the street. I ran outside in my bare feet to drop it in the bin and I stepped on something sharp,” Time said.

He would have paid about $150 to be seen at his local doctor in Junction City, which for him would be worth two weeks of groceries, four tanks of gas or a whole week of unemployment benefits.

Fortunately for Time, Dr. Jerry Zook, a retired podiatrist, was there to clean and protect the poorly healing cut in the arch of his foot, free of charge.

An hour or so into the event, warm meals arrived in crates and were supplied to patients, having been prepared beforehand by the local chapter of “Food Not Bombs,” a national hunger-fighting charity.

At 2 p.m., Dr. Howison came to relieve Dr. Knowlton. Howison, like Knowlton, expressed his concerns over the event merely treating the symptoms of society, and not the true ailment.

“I’m interested in a healthcare system that makes sense — that insures everybody, even the homeless,” Howison said. “We can’t fill the need. It’s unlimited. There are 50 million Americans without insurance. We shouldn’t be the only ones here. The city, the county, the state and the federal government just aren’t willing to take care of this problem.”

Howison, whose practice is based in Florence, was joined by his wife, Lina, who stood on hand as a Spanish interpreter.

According to Howison, the clinic, though helpful, remains limited. They cannot send for lab tests and perform advanced diagnoses, but they can easily investigate things like respiratory and dermatological conditions, which seem to be common among those living without adequate shelter.

In addition to inciting the overarching idea of a comprehensive street medicine program, Howison said he is “volunteering because it seems like the right thing to do.”

Original Article: http://dailyemerald.com/2012/02/26/occupy-clinic-aims-to-highlight-broken-system/



Occupy Eugene plans medical tent Health professionals will staff the tent and provide free medical care in the Park Blocks downtown

Occupy Eugene’s evolution continues, with group members planning to set up a medical tent for a few hours this Sunday in the downtown Park Blocks.

It’s a resurrection of sorts. Occupy Eugene — an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement that continues to protest on and raise awareness about economic inequality and corporate greed — ran a similar medical operation in Washington-Jefferson Park when the group camped there for seven weeks last fall.

Dr. David Knowlton, a family practitioner in Eugene, will be one of two physicians providing basic medical treatment at no cost to people who stop by the tent this Sunday afternoon.

Knowlton — a proponent of comprehensive health care reform — said he’s been somewhat involved with Occupy Eugene from the start. He manned medical tents that were part of the group’s encampments in the Park Blocks and Washington-Jefferson Street Park.

“My honest interest in it is personal,” Knowlton said, adding that he’s just trying to live by a philosophy that promotes acting to “be the change you want to see in the world.”

Occupy Eugene member Alley Valkyrie said the medical tent “is definitely open to” anyone who needs to see a doctor — even people who have health insurance. Nurses, emergency medical technicians and alternative care professionals will also be available.

Another Occupy Eugene member, Terry Purvis, said people will be able to access basic medical services at the tent — from wound care to obtaining a diagnosis of a lingering health problem.

Occupy Eugene said their plans call for having the tent open on Sundays after this weekend, as well.

Meanwhile, Purvis said he and other members of the group are establishing a team of “street medics” whose job will involve patrolling parts of Eugene to find people in need of medical care.

Occupy Eugene medical tent

What: Free medical services

Where: Downtown Eugene Park Blocks near Eighth Avenue and Oak Street

When: Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday

Details: Occupy Eugene will set up a tent staffed by volunteers including physicians, nurses, emergency medical technicians and alternative care professionals.

Original article: http://projects.registerguard.com/web/newslocalnews/27557053-55/medical-eugene-occupy-tent-park.html.csp