Sarah Russell and other volunteers provide free medical services in Washougal

Coordinating care for a community

Visitors to Bethel Community Church on the third Saturday of every month are subject to being greeted by several people — including Pastor Rich Blum and musician Mike Logan.

There are also several volunteers at an information table, steering patients toward free medical or massage services. They are all part of the “Compassion C/W” effort to provide services for individuals who do not have access to health care.

Logan, a member of the Bethel congregation, plays a guitar and harmonica in the church lobby which serves as a “waiting room” for patients and their families.

Blum said the volunteers are from several local churches.

“We just host it,” he said. “We try to do anything we can to make it special and provide a personal touch.

“Sarah is the hero of this thing,” Blum added.

He was referring to Sarah Russell, an advanced nurse practitioner with a specialty in family practice. The free medical services are provided from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Free lunches are served from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Saturday, lunches consisted of chicken noodle soup, rolls and homemade cookies and brownies, along with coffee and tea.

A table, containing free blankets, calendars, baseball caps, panty hose, purses and travel size soaps and shampoo, is in the Bethel lobby. Food pantry items are also available.

Julia Watts, a registered nurse, said she volunteers with the “Compassion C/W” events because she wants to help her community.

“I know there are a lot of people in need,” she said. “I know what it’s like to be on the needing end.”

Watts, a resident of Washougal since 1980, is currently working for a temporary agency.

The effort by local volunteers at Bethel does not surprise her.

“It’s such a warm community,” Watts said.

“All of us are here because we want to be,” she added. “We’re here to make a difference. Jesus told us to love God and our neighbor, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Brenda Harris and her husband Russ, of Washougal, were the first patients in line when the clinic opened in June 2011.

They have gone to the clinic every month.

“I’ve never seen care like this before,” Brenda said. “This clinic has probably saved people’s lives.”

Russ said he is grateful to receive neck and shoulder massages from Jessica Wheeler, a licensed massage practitioner.

“I can’t afford chiropractor services,” he said. “It helps month to month.”

Brittney Blankenship, a member of Bethel, appreciates the massages to treat her lower back pain while her parents see Russell.

“It’s a really good thing,” Blankenship said. “It helps people. The economy is not the greatest.”

Russell said 16 individuals were seen Saturday for medical and massage services. They included patients with respiratory illnesses and blood pressure issues, as well as diabetics and individuals needing routine medications.

Dental services, such as extractions, fillings and checkups, are offered when a Mission Teams International van is available. Thirteen patients have signed up to receive dental services next week.

The services for individuals without dental insurance are provided at no cost, but donations are accepted.

“The Mission Teams International van generally charges $600 each time they are utilized, to cover the cost and supplies of using their dental van,” Russell said. “In November and for January, they have more than generously provided this free of charge as we have no current funding. For any future use, we’ll need donations to that amount in order to supply this service through them — something I’d like to do every month or every other month.”

Meanwhile, Grass Valley Medical Clinic, owned by Russell and her husband Jon, closed Monday. Sarah said the closure means that she will get to stay home with her three young children and work on the “Compassion C/W” project.

She said there were some economic reasons for the closure of the clinic in Camas.

“Certainly patients are coming to the clinic less because of no insurance and no means to pay,” Sarah said. “Others don’t pay their bills and/or move, and the bills just get returned to us in the mail.

“Insurance reimbursement levels are less,” she added. “Many clinics are struggling to keep an adequate number of patients scheduled. We aren’t financially able to sustain being open any longer.”

Bethel Community Church is located at 1438 “B” St., Washougal. For more information about “Compassion C/W,” call 450-5990.

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