Client Stories

Nancy’s Story

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“I remember feeling the room turn sideways when he told me,” says Nancy as she recalls being informed of her breast cancer diagnosis last September at Providence’s Southern Oregon Cancer Center. “We’re sitting there talking about chemo treatment schedules for the winter, but I’m just in a state of shock… and it hasn’t even occurred to me yet that I have to drive to these appointments.”

Nancy and her husband Bruce live in Brookings, OR, about 120 miles west of Medford where Nancy was soon to begin receiving tri-weekly cancer treatments.

The cost of gas alone would have broken their budget — “I was on a high-dose plan partly because I was scared to miss too much work” — and the winter winds could additionally turn US-199 into an icy hazard. The commute was as expensive as it was dangerous.

“I just had no idea what we were going to do,” says Nancy, “until Ben told us about Project Access NOW.”

When Providence Radiation Oncology Social Worker Ben Bryan heard Nancy’s story, he reached out to Project Access NOW’s C3 Community Assistance Program (C3CAP). Through a partnership with Providence Health & Services, C3CAP works with hospital dispatchers and social workers to help clients get the resources they need to be healthy, safe, and, in Nancy’s case, maintain vital continuity of care.

“Working with Project Access NOW, we were able to get Nancy vouchers to stay at the Holiday Inn in Medford through the week [for her treatments], and gas cards so she could drive home to Brookings on weekends,” says Ben, proudly. “When she told us about how icy the pass could get, we were even able to get her new tires for her car.

“These interventions changed Nancy’s whole experience, and her outcome, dramatically. It would have taken comparable national programs weeks to connect her to those resources. Project Access NOW did it in two days.”

“How everyone treated me made all the difference fighting this cancer,” writes Nancy in a letter of appreciation to Providence and Project Access NOW, “I felt safe and warm at the Shiloh Inn, I didn’t have to stress about driving home, feeling bad from treatments.

“I can’t say it enough: thank you to everyone who made this possible…to Ben and Providence…and Project Access NOW. Thanks to you, I am a survivor and now cancer-free. Thank you for my life.”


Susan’s Story

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Before the Affordable Care Act, Susan had never really had health insurance. In fact, she says she’d never really had much preventative care at all.

“Growing up and then later on as well, we just weren’t real big on western medicine. Going to the doctor was for broken bones. Everything else, you get sick: try adjusting your diet, take these supplements, that sort of thing.”

She knew she’d had periodic trouble breathing since she was a kid but had never really investigated the cause behind the symptom. With no primary care doctor, she just made do treating her breathing problems with Albuterol she got from friends with a prescription.

Even when the passage of the ACA compelled her to buy coverage, a minimal insurance plan with catastrophic coverage only and high premiums was all she could afford, meaning routine check-ups remained a privilege unavailable to her. “Meanwhile, I was using my friends’ inhaler twelve or thirteen times a day in pollen-season, with no doctor to let me know I was dancing on the edge of a heart attack.”

Then, in 2016, everything changed. A personal crisis transformed her life, leaving her newly single with a teenage daughter and, for a time, no income to speak of. In search of help, she walked into the Milwaukie DHS office and found Project Access NOW assister Emilio waiting for her.

“Emilio was amazing,” Susan recalls, “all your staff are. But I just remember walking away from my first meeting with Emilio feeling like a different person.”

Emilio helped Susan and her daughter get health insurance through the Oregon Health Plan, then later helped her enroll in Project Access NOW’s Premium Assistance program when Susan’s new job meant she no longer qualified for OHP. Her asthma medication she accessed at a reduced cost through our Pharmacy Bridge Program.
“I can’t tell you what it means to suddenly receive the gift of health care after never having it. I have a relationship with my care provider now which means…I get to have this new relationship with myself.
“I don’t have to wonder about this or that strange symptom, to live with the dread of not knowing what’s happening with my body. I feel empowered to take care of myself and my daughter in a way I couldn’t before…I feel like a new person.
“I couldn’t have done it without you Project Access NOW. Your staff were just so amazing, accessible, and ready to solve whatever problem we brought them. Thank you. Thank you for changing my life.”




Ramon’s Story

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When doctors at OHSU’s Casey Eye Institute removed the pads from Ramon’s eyes following his glaucoma treatment, the first thing he saw was his adult son who had driven him to the visit. It was the first time Ramon had seen his son’s face clearly in several years.

“I felt very emotional,” Ramon says, “and to be honest, I cried.”

Ramon, who immigrated to the US from Mexico several decades ago, now lives in Tigard with his family where he manages a grocery store. While his vision problems finally began to endanger his job last spring, he sought help at the SW Community Health Center, where he was diagnosed with glaucoma and promptly referred to Project Access NOW.

With the help of Project Access NOW’s Classic Program, Ramon was approved for donated care at the Casey Eye Institute where his glaucoma was treated non-invasively, meaning his quick recovery wouldn’t require him to quit his job which offered him very little time off.  The process cost Ramon and his family nothing and left him with his vision restored, his job intact, and his outlook on the future newly optimistic.

“I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your help,” says Ramon now. “Thank God for the doctors and for Project Access NOW.”

Marina’s Story

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“So many beautiful things have happened in my life,” says 71-year-old Marina. Smile on her face, she proudly recalls raising her 4 sons in a hut with a thatched roof in her native Peru. “For money, my husband worked as a driver while I fried chickens for my neighbors. Rain leaked through our roof,” she says, “and I would pray to God, asking for a stronger roof.”

When Marina’s husband died in a car accident while their children were still teenagers, her family’s financial situation went from challenging to perilous. Marina saved the little she was still making and, with the help of a friend living in far-flung Gresham, OR, she saved enough to apply for a visa to travel to U.S.

Here, she quickly found work ironing and laundering table linens for a catering company. Though she missed her family terribly, Marina was proud to work and send money home. But in 2016, a growing pain in her abdomen made work hard.

“I didn’t want to go to the hospital because I feared being deported,” Marina explains, “but the pain grew worse. When I could bare it  no more, I went to [Wallace Medical Concern].” The staff at Wallace examined Marina, found she had eczema and, critically, a potentially cancerous tumor. Wallace’s staff referred Marina to Project Access NOW.

As a Project Access NOW Classic client, Marina received tests, skin treatment, and, eventually, life-saving surgery with  Providence Health & Services. Marina recalls coming out of surgery to find Dr. Lisa MccLuskey waiting at her bedside. When Dr. MccLuskey told Marina that she was going to be fine, Marina began to cry, “but not from sadness — from joy!

“I am so grateful to God, Providence, and Project Access NOW,” Marina says, “because of you I am alive today and able to see my family grow.”

Asked about her sons, now grown with children of their own, she explains that with the money she has sent home, her family now lives in a beautiful new house in Peru. “It has a roof,” she says, still smiling, “a good, strong roof, to keep the rain out. And it is because of you, the angels of Project Access NOW. Thank you. My family and I are grateful.”


Diane and Richard’s Story

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Diane, Richard, and their family

Enrolling one person in health insurance can be complicated enough, but try enrolling your whole family.

“And we’re a big family,” explains Project Access NOW client Diane, “like multiple-mini-vans-to-take-a trip-together’ big. Managing health insurance for all of us gets overwhelming fast.”

That’s why Diane and her husband Richard started to get nervous when, after assuming legal guardianship of their newborn grandchild, Jeremiah, they learned that Richard’s recent change in income meant Jeremiah, wouldn’t qualify for health insurance under the Oregon Health Plan. Unable to afford the private health insurance they would now have to purchase not only for their grandbaby but for Richard and several other family members who also lost OHP-coverage with Richard’s change in income, Diane and her husband begged the Oregon Health Authority to help them find a solution. Luckily, they directed the family to Project Access NOW and our Certified Healthcare Application Counselor, Katia.

“Katia was amazing,” says Diane, recalling how Katia helped organize their application materials to reapply for coverage for their entire family, resulting finally in OHP coverage for nearly every dependent in Diane and Rich’s home. “She took a step back from Rich and Jeremiah’s situation, and instead, approached our family’s coverage holistically. In our last meeting, when Katia told Rich that [in addition to OHP coverage for their family], he personally qualified for help paying his private health insurance premiums [through Project Access NOW’s Premium Assistance program], he cried a little, right there in the office.”

“Scenes like that are why I do this job,” says Katia, “the gratitude people feel when you are able to help. That’s what makes my day.”

“Thank you Katia and thank you Project Access NOW,” says Diane, “you were there when we needed you most. We are grateful.”


Vilma’s Story

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Vilma and Carl

When Vilma walked into the Legacy Good Samaritan emergency room back in 2015, her new husband Carl at her side, she recalls that she felt terrified, and it wasn’t just because she was having an emergency asthma attack and couldn’t breathe.

“I can hear the rattle in my chest, but in my head all I’m thinking is, ‘I have no insurance, I have no insurance, how are we going to pay for this when I have no insurance?'”

Vilma came to the United States from Costa Rica in 2011 with her husband Carl, a U.S. citizen. The two had met several years prior on one of Carl’s many trips there. Following a late-in-life courtship that left them both feeling like teenagers, Vilma accompanied Carl back to the U.S. to help care for him during his recovery from open heart surgery, but not before the two married in Costa Rica, making her path to citizenship here, not to mention her access to health insurance, complicated.

“I was treated very well [at Legacy], but I learned that my asthma was going to get much worse because of a problem with my thyroid, something I knew nothing about.”

Vilma learned that a pre-cancerous tumor was growing on her thyroid gland, necessitating a total thyroidectomy, a weeks-long process that would require many doctors, many consultations, and a long recovery. “And I just didn’t know how we were going to pay for any of it.”

Luckily, staff at Legacy did; they told Vilma and Carl about Project Access NOW.

As a client of Project Access NOW’s Classic Program, Vilma worked with her amazing Providence and The Oregon Clinic doctors to get the surgery that they say likely saved her life. She was also enrolled in primary care through Wallace Medical Concern and even got help paying for rescue inhalers for her asthma through Project Access NOW’s Pharmacy Bridge Program.

Carl was proud to return the favor as he cared for his wife while she recovered from surgery, tending to her bedside and picking up her inhalers from the pharmacy.

“Those inhalers are real expensive,” says Carl, “even if Vilma had insurance, just the copays could have ruined us. With Pharmacy Bridge, we pay $4 per inhaler.”

“Project Access NOW saved us,” says Vilma now. “I’m Catholic and, I want you to know, every time I go to an appointment, I always say ‘blessings on the doctors and the nurses, blessings on the interpreters and on all of the undocumented. And, of course, blessings on Project Access NOW.”


Gary’s Story

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Gary has seen a lot in his life and is more than happy to tell you about most of it.

“I grew up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the Toulumne Cherokee reservation. I’m Cherokee-Chickasaw. I came to Oregon fourteen years ago, following the woman I loved.”

Gary makes and sells beaded necklaces. He teaches Kung Fu and is excited to (safely) demonstrate kicks and holds on the nearest willing participant.

Something I don’t learn about him until thirty minutes into our conversation, and something almost none of our staff who worked with him had known, is that Gary is a “BKA.”

“Do you know what that means?” he asks, slow smile creasing his face. “It stands for ‘below the knee amputee.'” Pulling up his left pant leg, he reveals the prosthetic he says he helped design in order to minimally impact his martial arts practices. He is pleased that none of us knew this about him and takes pride in the craftsmanship of his prosthesis, just as he takes pride in the beaded necklace he made and gave to our staff as a “thank you” present. He clearly likes making things.

“What I don’t like is boundaries,” he says. “Obstacles. Things that keep me from living my life.”

Gary explains that one obstacle he felt particularly frustrated by was how a recent fluctuation in his income had put him just barely above the maximum income allowance to qualify for  health insurance through the Oregon Health Plan, meaning he was legally obligated to buy insurance from the Marketplace. Except the only plans he could afford required premiums his daily budget couldn’t accommodate, putting access to all but emergent care out of his reach.

“The only thing I was buying was a piece of paper,” he said, “to satisfy bureaucracy. And bureaucracy makes me frustrated. And angry. But then I met [Project Access NOW Outreach, Enrollment and Access assister] Sean at the DHS office and he told me about your Premium Assistance program. So now I’m not angry anymore.”

Through our Premium Assistance program, Project Access NOW leverages tax credits and cost-sharing reductions available to participants to pay the balance on the premiums for the Marketplace medical plans our clients select. Sean and others helped Gary file paperwork documenting his recent income changes and told him, thanks to recent expansions to our Premium Assistance program’s income qualifications, he now qualified for help paying his insurance premiums.

“It’s hard making sense of this stuff if you haven’t studied it, like [Project Access NOW staff] Sean and Linzay and Ranisha here have…you all shared what you knew and helped me, made me feel like a human being again. Now I just pay a copay to go to the doctor and I don’t have to worry about my premiums.

“This is what solutions look like,” says Gary, familiar smile creasing his face, “I’m not stressed or worried about bureaucracy or health insurance. I can get up in the morning, focus on the important things, and live my life. I thank Project Access NOW for making that happen.”


Caralee’s Story

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Caralee, like many of our clients, came to us with a problem that had a simple solution, it just happened to be a solution that was impossible for her to access on her own.

Caralee takes Coumadin, a prescription blood-thinner that keeps blood clots from forming in her body that could lead to sudden strokes, heart attacks, or other frightening complications. She’s taken it for years and been able to afford it because, for years, her customer service job paid her just little enough that she qualified for free health insurance under the Oregon Health Plan. But when her income changed in October of 2016, she was informed that she now made too much to qualify for OHP, ending her coverage. The only problem was, she still made nowhere near enough to pay for private health insurance that would cover her Coumadin prescription.

“I basically walked around living my life in panic-attack for the first week [after my Coumadin ran out,]” says Caralee. “I made an appointment with the local DHS to ‘explore solutions’ but, of course, the day of my appointment, I woke up with a nosebleed. I walked into that office crying, scared, and with no idea if I was about to die or not.”

At the DHS office was where Caralee learned about Project Access NOW.

“They connected me to [Project Access NOW Application Assister] Rusty, who was amazing. He treated me a like a person, listened, stayed positive, and basically kept me from giving up.”

Rusty was able to enroll Caralee in Project Access NOW’s Premium Assistance Program that helps people who make too much to qualify for OHP but not enough to afford their private health insurance pay their premiums and access the care they need.

As a Premium Assistance client, Caralee is now once again financially stable, back on Coumadin, and able to keep working and live her life.

“Without Project Access NOW, I could easily have died by now. Thank you Rusty and Project Access NOW.”

Gerardo’s Story

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Gerardo with Project Access NOW employee Sasha Viches

Gerardo with Project Access NOW employee Sasha Viches

When Project Access NOW client Gerardo walked into our office to speak to us for this article, he was pleased to find an old friend waiting for him. Gerardo and Project Access NOW’s own Program Implementation Specialist Sasha Viches first met in 2013, when Gerardo sought help for pain in his foot at Outside In’s free clinic. Sasha was employed there at the time.

At Outside In, Gerardo learned that the pain in his foot was casused by peripheral neuropathy, an early sign of diabetes. This diagnosis explained the vision problems he’d been experiencing.

“At night, I would look out in the streets,” recalls Gerardo, “and [my vision was so bad that] the only thing I could see was the red of the cars’ tail lights as they passed.”

A hard working day laborer, though an undocumented one, with limited English skills, Gerardo lacked a permanent home and most nights either crashed with friends or slept on the street. These conditions, combined with his drug use at the time, accelerated complications related to his diabetes and lead to the amputation of his foot in June of 2013.

“So much has changed since that time, it has felt like a real journey for me,” recalls Gerardo now as Sasha interprets for him. “Thankfully, Project Access NOW was with me the whole time.”

Referred to our Classic Care program by the clinicians at Outside In, Project Access NOW connected Gerardo to the surgery necessary to safely amputate his leg and, eventually, to the prosthetic that would soon let him walk again. Meanwhile, with help from our friends at Legacy and Providence, we connected Gerardo to two different eye surgeries in an effort to save his vision.

“As an undocumented person, going to the doctor is extra stressful … you worry about your health. but you are also worry about, ‘How will I pay for any of this? When are they going to start asking for paperwork?’ Could I wind up deported. With Project Access NOW, that stress was gone. I felt like a human being.”

When Gerardo walked up the stairs of our office for his interview (followed by a big hug from Sasha), he did so without a cane, something he says would have been impossible just three months before. Though he still lives mostly on the street, he quit using drugs in 2013, a change he attributes to the love and support of the church community he joined.

Discussing what has helped him get to where he is now, he names three things without hesitation,

“God,” he says, “Outside In, and Project Access NOW.

Sonji’s Story

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Photo by Antonio Harris

Photo by Antonio Harris

When Sonji moved to Portland in 2011, it was with the goal of turning her passion for helping others into a career as a nonprofit professional. That goal seemed to be getting closer when, in 2012 she found a temporary position working with the local chapter of a major nonprofit organization. Sonji enjoyed the satisfaction of her job enough to overlook the fact that she didn’t receive health insurance. When she began to notice some unusual changes in her health, though, the issue of her insurance became a lot more important.

“I started having insomnia, loss of appetite, stomach problems,” says Sonji, recalling symptoms that so negatively impacted her life as to land her in the emergency room several times but, without insurance, there was very little they could do. “I’d hear things like, ‘if you want to pay out-of-pocket for this test, we could check to see if you have this condition…’ but I just couldn’t afford it.”

As Sonji’s health grew worse, work became difficult. Finally, when a colleague noticed something was wrong, Sonji confessed that she hadn’t slept in days and was suffering from a mysterious ailment that she couldn’t afford to diagnose, let alone treat.

“That’s when she told me about Project Access NOW,” says Sonji.

With the help of Project Access NOW, Sonji was able to connect with a gastrointestinologist at Legacy Health where, following a diagnostic process that included two colonoscopies, her care providers were able to diagnose her with severe digestive inflammation and to begin the process of controlling her symptoms. Today, she looks back on that time with a mixture of amazement and gratitude.

“The community of care I found as a Project Access NOW client was just incredible. Before that, I felt isolated, my family was far away,” says Sonji. “My doctors and Project Access NOW changed all that.”

Today, Sonji works for Cambia Health Solutions where she is proud to help others connect to the kinds of care she once had such trouble accessing. “If not for Project Access NOW, I would not be where I am today.”