Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Juana Villa, Isabel Cordero, Violeta Hernandez and Maria Elena Luna deliver dinner to the volunteers at a free clinic for low-income uninsured people.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Juana Villa, Isabel Cordero, Violeta Hernandez and Maria Elena Luna deliver dinner to the volunteers at a free clinic for low-income uninsured people.
After their regular workdays, physicians, nurses, lab technicians and other volunteers arrive at the Essential Health Clinic to work another four or five hours as part of a medical corps that provides free urgent care in Washington County.

Often, they have no time to pick up dinner.

Luckily, the Essential Health Clinic has established a partnership with Adelante Mujeres and other organizations to help feed the volunteers on nights the free clinic is open. Women participating in Adelante’s adult education program take turns preparing and delivering meals once a month.

“Everybody loves the food,” said clinic manager Preneeti Parjan, as she tucked into a serving of mole casserole, one of her favorite dishes prepared by the women.

The medical volunteers love the food, and Adelante women love being able to give back to an organization that has helped so many people in their community.

“They do such a good thing for the community that we have to give something in exchange,” said Violeta Hernandez. “So we prepare something that is fresh and healthy.”

Plus, the women are proud to showcase their Mexican home cooking.  

“It’s something we can do that we love,” Maria Elena Luna said.

Essential Clinic is the only no-fee clinic in Washington County. It serves the more than 130,000 people who, due to unemployment or low-income jobs, don’t have access to medical insurance in a county that is home to 40 percent of Oregon’s uninsured.

The Hillsboro Clinic is open Monday and Thursday nights; the Tigard Clinic is open Wednesday nights. Patients have urgent conditions like acute infections, fevers, rashes, serious congestion, asthma and more. Those who seek care arrive at 5 p.m., receive a random number, and they are served by triage nurses and doctors.

Though the clinic cannot serve all who show up, every visitor leaves with medical advice.

Hernandez knows many people who have sought treatment at the clinic. She brought her son when he was suffering terrible pain from a toothache.

“It’s hard to have insurance,” she said.

National spending on health care has increased over the past decade and is projected to continue on a rapid growth trajectory, according to the United States Census Bureau. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that the share of the economy devoted to health care has increased from 7.2 percent in 1970 to 17.9 percent in 2010.

Uninsured people tend to forgo or delay medical services until health care problems escalate into emergency care situations, which makes the uninsured a larger burden to the health care system than those with insurance, the Census reports.

The free clinics function with minimal staff, instead relying on a cadre of 200 active volunteers for the brunt of the work, according to Barb Jansen, Hillsboro clinic administrator. In addition to medical providers, those volunteers include language interpreters, data entry clerks and others. An average of 30 patients are seen each night the clinics are open for business.

The women who delivered food on a recent night are all working through Adelante to earn GEDs, with hopes to continue on to college. Adelante Educación fits academics into the context of the lives of the low-income Latina women who are part of the program.

“The program does such a nice job of showing us how to improve ourselves,” Hernandez said about Adelante. “They give us the power to go out and keep doing whatever we have as our goal.”

That goal for Hernandez is studying English at Pacific University to someday become a social worker.

Founded a decade ago by Holy Names Sister Barbara Raymond and Bridget Cooke, the organization operated out of Sister Barbara’s home and then the rectory at St. Anthony Church. With support from the Sisters of the Holy Names, Adelante Mujeres was able to move into an office and has continued to grow steadily. Today, the organization serves more than 450 families.  

In addition to committing to a certain number of classroom hours, the women also pledge 20 hours of community service per school term.

“Our educational program is all about character development,” said Cooke, executive director of Adelante Mujeres. “A key piece of that is discovering how much fun it is and how rewarding it can be to engage civically and be involved in your community.”

Plus, she said, the home Mexican cooking is fabulous and clinic volunteers are very enthusiastic about the partnership.