I decided that there must be some way to address all of these concerns at once, and at the same time impact the community in a positive way by introducing chiropractic to a population segment that would not normally be exposed to our profession. We put our heads together and decided to contact Oregon Fair Share, a state-run agency that assists minorities. We were given office space in the small town of Independence, Oregon; a telephone, and the title "Proyecto Chiropractic Clinic." I thought, "What else does a chiropractor need to start a practice?"
I contacted some DCs who I knew were enthusiastic about chiropractic and explained the premise of the clinic: It would be open one afternoon per week (at first); two doctors would be present at all times, bringing their own diagnostic equipment; any office call, including an exam, would be five dollars, or whatever the patient could afford; all patients would sign a form stating that their income level did not permit them to seek treatment elsewhere, and that they did not have any insurance coverage. The other doctors, Tom Richards, Ph.D., D.C.; Don Fox, D.C.; and Bruce Duerst, D.C., were eager to get started.
We opened the clinic in the midst of the worst antichiropractic campaign in Oregon's history, the workers' compensation situation brought about by the claims billed to the Saif Corporation. Several newspapers ran stories and photos on the Proyecto Clinic. The community responded very positively, and we were off.
Now it's almost a year later. We have just completed a food, clothing, and blanket drive that was highly successful. Part of the five dollar office call fee went to buying food for the needy. The rest of the accounts receivable are to be used to help needy families or individuals in the area. It is apparent that in this community, chiropractic has a better public image because of the Proyecto Clinic. We have donated approximately $13,000 in services, and generated about a $1,000 income.
Since we are funded by the state of Oregon (our rent and telephone), our next step is to request a grant from the county for supplies and equipment. An x-ray machine would be very helpful. Time will tell.
The doctors who have worked at the clinic have also benefited tremendously from the experience. We are able to practice our chosen profession without outside interference or distraction. There are no thoughts of remuneration; all services are donated.
The Proyecto Clinic truly serves as a primary portal of care for many patients. It is an excellent test of diagnostic skills for the doctor, and because there are always two doctors, it also works as a teaching/learning clinic. We have seen cases of pyelonephritis, gout, scabies, diabetic retinopathy, fractures, and many other interesting conditions.
Eventually we would like to establish similar clinics around the state so that more people can enjoy the benefits of chiropractic care, and more DCs can use their skills to help individuals from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds. My most sincere hope is that other chiropractors around the country will take up the call to public service and start a national trend.
We should ask ourselves three questions: What do we lose by giving one or two afternoons a month? How eager are we to share the benefits of chiropractic care? Must everything we do have a price tag?
Philosophically, I suppose that the Proyecto Chiropractic Clinic is the antithesis of the million dollar "practice managed" clinic; but which do you suppose generates the most goodwill and gratitude in a community?
My recommendation to all DCs of a similar mind is to call the local homeless shelter, Salvation Army, or county medical clinic. Form ties with these organizations and put in you "time." You will not be sorry and, as a result, many people will regain their health while helping you lead a more fulfilling professional life.
Michael D. Freeman, D.C.