Growing up poor, Kathleen Flewelling knew what it was like to be uninsured and not have easy access to healthcare.

Later, as a student of naturopathic medicine, her experiences as a student made her want to give back to the community.

“As a student, I had some of my best experience doing community clinics as a doctor,” Flewelling said. “The one that I got exposed to was the Native American Rehabilitation Association… We didn’t have much equipment, but we were able to help a lot of people feel better.”

Dr. Flewelling brought those experiences with her to Seaside, where, every month for the past nine years, she has held a free weekend clinic for low-income residents.

Flewelling offers a full range of services at the clinic, held at the Seaside Library on the second Saturday of every month from 1 to 4 p.m. She performs physicals for sports, spine alignments and blood pressure checks, among other things. She also offers advice to patients on diets and supplements.

“If it’s things that you would normally go to your doctor for – if you have a cold or a little bit of an ear ache, your kid needs a physical exam to play sports or go to camp, and you can’t afford to go to the doctor, (the clinic’s) a good place to go,” Flewelling said.

On a usual weekend, she sees about 12 patients; most come from Seaside or one of the surrounding communities. They range from those who see her often to those who are there for the first time.

The free clinic may be the only of its kind in the area, said Flewelling, who will accept donations if people are able to offer them.

In addition to low-income patients, Flewelling said she also sees people interested in trying her services out before spending money with her. She estimated about a third of her free clinic patients go on to become regular patients in her practice.

Visiting a naturopath may not be at the top of mind to a lot of people, but Flewelling said she offers a full scope of services, almost as much as a medical doctor. The only thing that’s different is the philosophy.

“It’s about the whole person and more natural treatments if possible,” Flewelling said. “In Oregon, I can also prescribe certain medications including antibiotics and pain medications and hormones and regular stuff you see the doctor for.”

She focuses on lifestyle changes, diet and supplements. Visiting a naturopath can be cheaper than visiting a traditional medical doctor, Flewelling added.

“If you have to treat yourself, it’s cheaper to make lifestyle changes than to treat yourself with a drug,” Flewelling said. “If you have to pay out of pocket – if you don’t have insurance to pay for your medications -- it’s cheaper to take some supplements, although there’s so much information and misinformation on the Internet, it’s better to come check with somebody like me. I’ll know more about how your vitamins and supplements interact with your medications than an M.D. or a pharmacist would.”

Flewelling has been a practicing naturopath since 1997 and in Seaside since 1998. At the time she moved into the community, taking a job at the Seaside Spa and Wellness Center, she said she was the only naturopath. She began the free clinic in 2004 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church.

There will not be a clinic in August, but there will be one on Sept. 14. Flewelling encourages those who want to make an appoint to call her office, 503-738-5859.

“It’s better to call the office, so you know you have a spot,” she said. “You can come to the clinic, and we can usually fit you in, but it’s better to make an appointment if you can."

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