A standing-room only crowd in the reception area and a bustling team of volunteers welcoming and checking out patients is what you can expect to see on Tuesday nights at Centralia’s Northwest Pediatric Center, as Health & Hope Medical Outreach.
Located at 1911 Cooks Ave. in Centralia, the medical facility has become a go-to spot for uninsured and underinsured individuals with untreated illnesses that, in many cases, have gone years without being diagnosed or treated. The clinic sees clients from 5:30-8:00 p.m. on days it is open.
“Many of the people have no other options. I’m an older lady who’s been there and done that, and I know what it’s like to have nothing in the fridge when you’ve got kids to feed,” said Mickey Lofgren, executive director of Health & Hope Medical Outreach, a weekly Christian-based operation that began its public service in February 2013.
Joining Lofgren is Dr. Michael Strohbach of the Steck Medical Group in Chehalis, who in addition to serving as the free clinic’s primary physician, is one of Health & Hope’s founders.
While Strohbach and a rotation of contributing doctors frequently examine a varying number of adult patients 18 and older, Lofgren chips in by managing the inflow of low-income clients who must show the volunteer staff proof of their medical coverage or lack thereof. In some instances where individuals do have insurance, it was noted, high deductibles make medical care unaffordable anyway.
About half of the clientele consists of Spanish-speaking immigrants, a vast number of whom are neither fluent nor conversant in English, according to Lofgren. She said many of them are reluctant to seek medical care due to their financial limitations and a prevailing feeling of isolation that can sometimes be the product of living in a non-native country.
“Once they come in and meet the people taking care of them, they see how much the volunteers truly care about them,” said Lofgren, an Enumclaw native with a background in banking and management. “We get really good responses when we ask them to fill out a little form when they leave and they’re just amazed.”
During The Chronicle’s Oct. 1 visit to the urgent care clinic, a small group of volunteers approached patients and immediately put them at ease by asking them about their home and family situations, whether they are seeking employment or if they have enough food for the rest of the week.
Among those volunteers were four translators, such as the Mexico City-born Maggie Martinez.
After their exams, the patients were directed to volunteers to advise them on future needs, such as X-ray referrals and obtaining non-medical resources such as clothing, furniture and other everyday necessities.
Lofgren characterized resource coordinators, such as Leslie Moog and Jennie Drees, as the “cornerstones of our operation.”
Members of Health & Hope go beyond basic examinations and medical care to offer prayer for their patients. Though the assorted lot of patients are of different religious denominations, Strohbach estimates that more than 90 percent of them readily accept requests on the part of volunteers to pray for them.
Lofgren thanked Northwest Pediatrics Dr. Jennifer Polley, who, she added “has gone through great lengths to to get us to use this facility — at no cost.”
While Health & Hope has seen a healthy rise in the weekly turnout of patients from Lewis County and south Thurston County, the same can’t be said of the number of volunteers that show up at the clinic every Tuesday.
In fact, Lofgren reported that seven of the 17 walk-ins had to be turned away during the group’s most recent session due to a shortage of volunteers.
“We desperately need more doctors and nurses to help us,” she said.