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Clinic Offers Alternative Health Care -- For Free
12/14/2009 05:48 PM ET   Reported By: Tom Porter

Back in March, we reported on the efforts of a group of Portland-area alternative healthcare practitioners to set up a free clinic to cater for the growing number of people unable to afford healthcare. Nine months later, the initiative is still alive. And today, operating under the name "Turn the Tide," it was able to offer its first free walk-in health clinic in downtown Portland.

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"This clinic this morning is our first go with just having the public, whoever needs it, to come in and get the services they need," says Dr. Wendy Pollock. "We have today naturopaths, homeopaths, chiropractic and attunement going on this morning."

Pollock is a licensed chiropractor and homeopath with 25 years experience. She, and others, established Turn The Tide earlier this year in response to concerns that more than 70 million Americans either lack health insurance or are under-insured, meaning they do have some coverage but still find healthcare too expensive.

"The 'health' has largely gone out of healthcare, and because we have a profit model in our society, it's all about your bottom line and how many visits people need to see per hour in order to make their dollars utilizable and billable units of service, et cetera," Pollock says. "So in Turn The Tide the model is really about taking the time it takes to help someone regain their health."

"We've been meeting every week and trying to figure out how to go about this, whether we need to become a non-profit, do we join with other groups?" says Dr. Priscilla Skerry, a naturopathic doctor who specializes in nutrition. She was among the four practitioners offering their services for free at the clinic. "So we've been meeting weekly just to kind of see what those alternative ways would look like. And finally we came to the conclusion we just need to do something, so let's hold a free clinic and see what it looks like.

Among those taking advantage of the free healthcare on offer was Portland resident Marina Blanchard, who came to see homeopathic doctor Nancy Frederick. "I actually had heard about a free clinic here, and I signed up and I'd never been to a homeopath or anything, and now you've got a believer in me."

Blanchard says she found the consultation to be enlightening. "I felt that aside from going to a mainstream doctor, there was a lot more discussion about a more holistic approach to my condition. We talked about things in great detail that I never would do at a normal doctor."

While she says she normally would not be able to afford a visit to a homeopath, Blanchard hopes to be able to fund future visits through other kinds of payment. By working as a cook and an event organizer, she has previously earned credits at the Portland Hour Exchange - a time-bank in which members earn credits by offering their own services, such as lawn-mowing or piano lessons.

Turn The Tide strongly encourages its clients to pay back to the community in this way, says Wendy Pollock, who describes the system as a "pay-it-forward" model.

"If you came in as a client and you were receiving a nutritional consultation on how you could eat differently to shift your lifestyle, then your choice would be to choose anything you wanted to pay your payment forward too," she says. "So maybe you decided you liked building and you wanted to build a Habitat for Humanity House, whatever you decided you wanted to do to help your neighbor in some way to pay it forward."

In another effort to reach out to the community, Turn The Tide recently launched a pilot project in which it offers its services to two local businesses - the North Star Cafe and Arabica Coffee Company, neither of which are able to provide their employees with health insurance.

The companies' 18 to 20 employees are given free access to Turn The Tide's health services. In return, says Pollock, the two businesses agreed to help Turn The Tide with its research.

"The agreement that we had was the employees would take a pre- and post- survey online, and also give us feedback about what the services were they were receiving and how it's impacted their health," she says. "Because we're also trying to do research around, how does alternative care impact the cost and lower the cost of healthcare delivery?"

As for the future, Wendy Pollock wants Turn The Tide to start offering its services throughout the state, particularly to underserved sections of society like Indian tribes and the island communities. This goal should be made more attainable, she says, once the organization achieves non-profit status -- something she expects to happen next year.

In meantime, another free clinic is planned on Monday, February 1st. For more information visit: turnthetidemaine.org.





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