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Throughout pandemic, White Bird adapts and perseveres for locals in need

Brian Bull

The White Bird Clinic in Eugene has weathered a lot of adjustments and challenges since the pandemic hit the area last year. But they’ve since managed to overcome a lot for their clientele.

White Bird’s executive coordinator, Chris Hecht, told KLCC when COVID-19 came to the area in March 2020, it brought immediate changes.

Credit Photo provided by Chris Hecht.
Chris Hecht, exec. coordinator for White Bird.

“We saw in-person encounters at White Bird Medical, drop by 85%, for example," said Hecht.  "The dental clinic was actually entirely shut down by mandate, and our low barrier day access center for unhoused individuals had to stop operating because it was a congregate center and congregating was not a very good idea in the beginning.” 

Hecht added about 10% of the medical center’s staff were laid off for a while, and over the first six to nine months, about ten staffers tested positive for COVID-19.  But this was outside clinic operations, and they’ve managed to keep their clientele safe from exposure.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Homeless man sleeping on sidewalk in downtown Eugene.

While many counseling organizations and care providers have had to “pivot” a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hecht says transitioning to telehealth has actually been a silver lining for clients.

While initially, operations were shut down or greatly restricted at the onset of the pandemic, once support services were in place, many unhoused or impoverished people could be reached without relying on transportation or caretakers for their belongings.

“Telehealth encounters can be just as effective as in-person and have some real benefits. And that rings true for White Bird’s target population, who are living at less than 200% of the federal poverty level.”

Hecht says White Bird staff often met people in open spaces, to socially distance on park benches and go over essential paperwork. With a laptop and wi-fi hotspot, clients can be walked through a process, such as requesting a paper copy of a birth certificate.

Accommodations were eventually made for visits that couldn’t be done virtually for one reason or another.

Copyright 2021, KLCC. 

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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