Occupy Medical started as a humble first aid tent at the Occupy Eugene site on October 15, 2011. A handful of medically trained volunteers began to serve the movement with their specialized skills. We had a pop-up canopy, a few blankets and donated medical supplies from the local emergency clinic. Mostly, we had enthusiasm.
The Occupy Eugene camp included a wide variety of people, ranging from street kids to middle-aged elders. As people learned that Medical was there to treat patients and not to judge, our client load increased.
The complexity of the medical conditions that we treated increased as well. We tracked patients with hepatitis, Mercer, HIV, and pneumonia. Our medical staff saved lives by sending Occupiers to the hospital for conditions that they were unaware of. We also saved lives by CPR. Our volunteers restarted the hearts of three patients during our brief occupation.
On Christmas Eve, the Eugene City Council shut the camp down. The homeless disappeared into the night. They are used to being invisible. As Medical took down the tent and packed away the bandages, we wondered what would become of our patients.
We tried offering clinics at OEV but it was obvious that we had to go back to the streets to directly help those in need. On Sunday, February 5, 2012, Occupy Medical set up a tent on the steps of the Federal building. The weekly free clinics were open for business.
We ran a tight ship. Patients checked in at the intake card table, gave us a name and we recorded their complaint and general health information.
Then we sent them to our makeshift waiting room to have their vitals taken by the nurse. While waiting, they could get a drink of water or a plate of free organic food from our ally Food Not Bombs. The doctor saw them in the privacy of the tent. After their check up, patients received direct treatment, herbal or nutritional supplements, or a prescription for their condition.
Medical also provides follow up. We give prescriptions to the volunteer pharmacist, who is part of a program that offers $75 off medications for low income individuals. If the patient needs information on community services, the intake volunteer walks the patient through their options.
A few months after running the clinic at the Federal Building, we decided to move deeper into downtown. The Federal building Plaza offered no protection from the elements. The arrangement of the buildings constructed a wind tunnel that threatened to lift our tent off the ground even when it secured by bricks. Our patients had suffered enough. They needed the protection of the trees and access to a water fountain.
We moved to the Park Blocks. The move paid off immediately. Our patient load increased dramatically. Even though we are only open 4 hours at a time, we started seeing 15-20 patients in shift. People were lining up outside. The park offers bench in the shade to wait comfortably.
The increase in clients wasn’t good enough for our volunteers, they proposed increasing our services. We offered free haircuts one Sunday. We collected braids longer than 8″ to donate to an organization that fashions hair into wigs for cancer patients. By the end of the day, I had a box with 2# of ponytails to donate. With this response, we had to offer this service again. Our brave Occupy stylist started showing up every other week to offer more free haircuts and well toned self images.
The next step was in the hands of our Reiki trained volunteer. She knew first hand how people suffered from chronic back pain. People that can’t afford groceries certainly can’t afford to pay for a massage. She talked another Occupier trained as a massage therapist into offering free body work at the clinic for the day. 17 patients later, Occupy Medical’s Body Work Day was born.
Occupy Medical is growing. Every Sunday, we have more patients. Every Sunday, we have more volunteers. People want to help their neighbors. People want to connect and make a difference. Occupy Medical opened a door. All it took was a tent and a little enthusiasm.
*This is an updated version of an article that I wrote for Eugene Occupier newsletter of March 2012.
**Photos by David Sierralupe