Free Clinic Assists Thousands, Highlights Lack of Healthcare Access

by Susan Fried

Hundreds of eager patients waited patiently in long lines outside of Key Arena on Thursday for the first day of the Seattle/King County Clinic. Many had already waited several hours at the adjacent Fisher Pavilion just for a chance at an admission ticket.

Now in its fourth year, the huge four day event offers a range of free healthcare and clinical services to anyone on a first come, first serve basis. Sponsored by more than a hundred local organizations, the clinic includes doctors, dentists, nurses, technicians, translators and thousands of other volunteers providing an estimated $4 million worth of medical care.

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Patients wait their turn to receive eye exams. [Photo: Susan Fried]
Despite the long wait and lines that stretched around the Seattle Center’s pavilion, most attendees seemed grateful for the opportunity to receive health services that would otherwise be unaffordable.   

Two of the clinics heavily utilized areas were the dental and optical sections. This was unsurprising as many in attendance were Medicare recipients. The government program offers little to no coverage for non-medically necessary dental and optical health.

Karl Volkle who is uninsured, just happened to be walking though Seattle Center with his service dog Bucca when they discovered the Clinic. He soon joined the patient line and later received some much needed dental work.  

However, it is not just patients like Volkle who are benefiting from one of the largest free healthcare events on the West Coast, many of the volunteers described working at the clinic as an opportunity to give back to the community and also work with other dedicated professionals.

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Karl Volkle received dental care at the Seattle/ King County Clinic on Thursday. [Photo: Susan Fried]
Lynn Girdlestone, the Clinic’s Vision Director has volunteered all four years and says “being able to help other people see without having to charge them anything is a really great feeling”.

All of her fellow participants seemed to understand the significance of their work and just how great the need for affordable healthcare is in Washington State and the rest of the country.

In the Seattle King County Clinic’s 4 year existence almost 12,000 people have received more than $10 million in services from close to 10,000 volunteers.  

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Line outside of Key Arena. [Photo: Susan Fried]
Last year, three quarters of the clinic’s patients were between the ages of 26 and 64, 51 percent were female, and three patients were transgender.

At a time when lawmakers are still debating over how to revamp the United State’s healthcare system, the clinic underscored that many Americans still cannot access basic healthcare services even with insurance.

One of the clinic’s patients, who asked not to be identified, said that, “You used to see Doctors Without Borders setting up medical clinics in third world countries. And now in one of the richest cities in the world thousands of people wait in line for a chance to see a doctor and have some of their healthcare concerns finally addressed.”

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The Seattle/King County Clinic continues through Sunday October 29th.  All are welcome. People seeking care do not need ID or proof of immigration status.  Patients need only to give their first and last name, along with their date of birth. Admission tickets are issued at 5:00 am in Fisher Pavilion which opens at 12:30 am.  

Clinic spokespeople are advising people to be prepared for a long day of waiting. They also recommend wearing comfortable clothing and bringing food, beverages and any medications that may be needed during the day.  Free parking is available at the Mercer St. Garage at 650 3rd Avenue north or the 1st Avenue Garage located at 220 1st Avenue north.


Susan Fried is a Seattle based freelance journalist whose work has appeared in The Seattle Globalist and Skanner newspapers. 

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