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Health Providers Bring Free Health Clinic To Philomath Farm Workers

Melorie Begay/KLCC News

A group of Corvallis providers celebrated their 50th clinic last month. Together they offer free health services to two nearby farms in Philomath. Most of the workers on those farms are uninsured, work seasonally, and about half them are Hispanic/Latinx. The program gives patients access to care they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

Credit Melorie Begay/KLCC News
Every month on the Grange farm a group of volunteers open a free health clinic for farm workers in this building.

Once every month, nurses, physicians, and volunteers turn a barn-like community center on the Grange farm into a clinic. Inside, there are three stations hidden behind black privacy curtains for an acupuncturist, an osteopathic doctor, and a chiropractor.

Off to the side are two registered nurses who check patients' blood sugar levels and blood pressure. 

“For folks who are here for general medical issues like blood pressure or check-ups, or infections we go into the back room where I’m set up doing some general medicine,” emergency physician Gabriel Ledger said.

Five years ago, Ledger co-started the program as a way to give back to the farming community. The services they provide are largely determined by the workers, which is why chiropractors and acupuncturists are some of the most popular providers.

“A lot of our patients are coming for musculoskeletal treatment, so these are people who are working hard every day sometimes 12 hours, 14 hours a day picking vegetables planting seeds, a lot of bending down, a lot of lifting, a lot of putting their bodies in contorted unusual positions,” Ledger said.

Credit Melorie Begay/KLCC News
Gabriel Ledger, left, and Yu Matsumoto, middle, access Danny Wheelers ankle.

Most of the farmworkers the providers see are uninsured, like Danny Wheeler. Wheeler has ankle pain and is able to see both Ledger and Osteopathic Physician Yu Matsumoto. It’s a visit that could cost upwards of $125.

All of the health professionals are volunteers that work with Good Samaritan hospital and Community Outreach in Corvallis. This makes it possible to offer free services to workers.

“Generally they leave appreciating the treatment as well as having varying degrees of relief sometimes mild to moderate or complete resolution,” Matsumoto said.

Helping underserved communities has always been a goal of his and this isn’t any different. But, Matsumoto said getting care should be easier for everyone.

“That can get into a pretty complex issue because even with the insured population we have to deal with a lot of administrative red tapes. So I can image it gets more complex without insurance to navigate this world trying to get healthier,” Matsumoto said.

Credit Melorie Begay/KLCC News
Merced Morales was diagnosed with anemia after visiting the free health clinic. She visits the clinic’s chiropractor to help ease her back pain.

For the farm workers who use the clinic, there are two Spanish interpreters on hand. And signing up for an appointment is as easy as writing their name under a provider they want to see. Merced Morales, a field worker at Gathering Together Farms, said she signed up after feeling unusually tired.

“I talked to Dr. Gabe and they asked questions and they sent me to get a blood test,” Morales said, “I ended up having anemia.”

Patients like Morales can sometimes be referred to Corvallis for additional treatment at Good Samaritan at zero cost.

“It opened my eyes. Sometimes we forget about our symptoms, and I was really thankful that I was close and the hospital didn't charge me,” Morales said. She added that she’s currently taking advantage of seeing the chiropractor for back pain.

For the most part the clinic has been successful. Ledger said they’ve seen around 750 visits, with many of them being return patients. As to what the future holds for the clinic, Ledger said he’d like to expand services based on what the workers ask for.

© 2020 KLCC


Melorie Begay is a multimedia journalist for KLCC News. She was the Inaugural KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She has a bachelors in Multimedia Journalism from the University of New Mexico. She previously interned at KUNM public radio in Albuquerque, NM and served as a fellow for the online news publication New Mexico In Depth.