More than 30 years ago, Erik Szeto, DO, founded what is now the Asian Health and Service Center in the 600-square-foot basement of a Presbyterian church in Portland, Oregon. Today, the center includes three locations in and around Portland, and plans are in the works for further expansion to position the center as a primary care base for Asian-American patients, as well as those from other cultures.
With nearly 50% more Asian-American residents than the national average, Portland needs primary care physicians who understand the cultural divide between Eastern and Western forms of medicine, Dr. Szeto says. He created his center with the goal of improving health care quality for Asian-Americans and bridging gaps between Asian and American cultures.
In addition to running his own private family medicine practice, Dr. Szeto is the founder and board chairman of the Asian Health and Service Center and runs the annual Asian Community Health Fair, which provides free health screenings for local residents.
Caring for the community
With a focus on providing culturally appropriate mental health treatment, the Asian Health and Service Center aims to offer its patients low-cost primary care and public health services.
“Many of my patients prefer non-pharmacological treatment options,” says Dr. Szeto. “As osteopathic physicians, we are trained to look beyond prescription medication, so we are uniquely qualified to meet this population’s needs.”
Each year, medical students from Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest (WesternU/Comp-Northwest) in Lebanon, Oregon, enhance their cultural competency training by volunteering at the center.
“Ethnic sensitivity training is important to students,” says Dr. Szeto. “Volunteering at the center teaches future DOs to interact with diverse populations, which will make them more aware of cultural differences in their future patients.”
Asian Community Health Fair
Dr. Szeto held the center’s first Asian Community Health Fair more than 15 years ago with the goal of addressing common health concerns in the Asian-American community.
This year’s health fair was the largest yet, providing physical screenings, mental health information and OMT consultations for more than 375 patients, many of whom were uninsured.
Osteopathic medical students from WesternU/Comp-Northwest volunteered at the health fair, helping to diagnose patients and, when appropriate, provide OMT under a DO’s supervision, says Dr. Szeto.
Because only 2.5% of patients who attend the health fair speak English as their primary language, over 150 bilingual volunteers were available to translate.
While he’s proud to serve Portland’s Asian-American population, Dr. Szeto looks forward to opening the center’s new location when fundraising is complete. The new center will give the Asian Health and Services Center added capacity to extend care to all cultures.
“The main goal is for everyone to come together as one,” says Dr. Szeto of the new center. “In addition to primary care services and mental health care, we will also provide a cancer resource and support center.”
The Asian Health and Service Center is now accepting donations for its new location.