by Will Sweger
Perched on the Skyway hillside sits an easily-overlooked former dentist’s office with a disproportionately large impact on the community. The Cynthia A. Green Family Center is officially reopening Saturday after a remodel to bring medical services available to everyone in the community.
The new capability is a result of a partnership between Renton Area Youth & Family Services (RAYS) and HealthPoint, a non-profit network of healthcare providers in King County that operates 10 main locations and six satellite clinics. HealthPoint will focus on medical care while RAYS will continue to offer mental health and support services.
Formerly the West Hill Family Enrichment Center, it opened in its current location in 1996 and was renamed in 2014 after Cynthia Green, who worked at the center assisting people for 20 years. In January the remodel added the additional medical care capability.
According to Green, when the Family Center opened, it focused on providing assistance to families experiencing poverty by assisting with rent and utility payments, lodging, and moving expenses. “The Family Center came into being because there were no services up on the hill for the community,” she explained.
Green was one of two original employees, and in the beginning they operated out of a former middle school. At the center, she assisted families with everything from household cleaning supplies to soccer cleats for a girl who wanted to play on a soccer team at school, but her family couldn’t afford the shoes.
Green smiled as she recalled people returning to the center and with the happy news that they’d found a job. “To see things like that happen, and to think ‘Wow, this person went from here to here and I had a chance to be on that journey with them a little bit.’”
She said she was delighted to see the medical clinic arrive since many people in the community have trouble obtaining bus fare or gas money to travel to Swedish for medical appointments. “Our area has definitely been a medical desert,” she said.
The wider health situation in Skyway is more opaque, mainly because no one is keeping track of it. What we do have is information on poverty in Skyway thanks to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Bryn Mawr Skyway is one of the most diverse places in King County and the state, but also suffers from higher levels of poverty. A 2016 estimate put the poverty rate for Bryn-Mawr Skyway at 14 percent, above King County’s rate of 9.3 percent. Educational attainment in Skyway also lags at 82.9 percent with a high school diploma or higher, about 10 points behind King County’s rate.
TJ Cosgrove, the Community Health Services Division Director for King County explained, “We know from what we see in community health data, not just here in King County but nationally, that there is a link between health and income. Access to resources that drive health pivot back to things like what we call the social determinates of health. If you have access to education, transportation, livable wages, stable housing…those things can lead to better health.”
“We’ve come a long way through some of our achievements that have to do with the Affordable Care Act,” he continued. “More people are insured, more people have access to healthcare. We’ve seen great expansion in our safety-net providers. So there’s good news and we have more work to be done.”
One of the longest-running offerings at the center is the Kinship Program, made up of families with grandparents taking care of grandchildren. Helen Sawyer, the Kinship Program Coordinator explained the challenge families face as grandparents with children are sometimes afraid to ask for support for fear they may lose custody.
“We’re not able to have as much food as we would like to have for our families,” she said. Sawyer explained that many food banks limit the amount of visits clients can make and many times one trip a month isn’t enough for families with children. “The other problem is housing,” she said. “It’s hard to find a house large enough for a big family.”
In addition to its new medical role, the Cynthia Green Family Center also offers parenting classes for people returning to child care after a long break. Green herself actually took a course at one point when she took children into her own home.
The center received a grant last year from Pacific Hospital Preservation and Development Authority that provided them with the funds to get started on the renovation. A capital campaign followed in the fall of last year to raise money to complete the project. With the new facilities, HealthPoint is able to offer medical assistance to the community.
The remodel started in November and finished in January. Kristen Raftis, the RAYS Director of Strategic Relationships, explained a “soft opening” followed to allow RAYS and HealthPoint workers to train on working together while providing service members from the community. The first day the team saw six patients who walked in off the street or came referred from another HealthPoint location in Renton. The number had swelled to 24 people by the end of the second day the center was open.
At full capacity, Raftis expects the center to have 500 unique visitors seeking medical and behavioral assistance each year. The center will also offer behavioral health counseling for visitors as well. The facility will have different hours than before and access after-hours will be more restricted due to the presence of medical supplies, but community resource offerings like a fax machine, a printer, and a computer lab will still be available.
“This is a community that has been through so much change,” Raftis explained. “They’ve just seen people come in like ‘Oh we’re here to help you,’ and the grant ends and they leave. So we want to be really thoughtful and transparent about what our commitment is going forward.”
Bridgette Richardson, whose non-profit Cierra Sisters runs cancer screening and support services out of the Family Center summed up its value to the community saying, “The reason why the family center is named after Cynthia Green is because Cynthia had a standard. Anybody that walked in the door deserved respect, deserved dignity, and deserved help wherever they were…That’s the spirit of the Cynthia Green Family Center, to turn no one away.”
The Cynthia A. Green Family Center is open Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 10am–5pm.
The HealthPoint Medical Clinic is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8am–5pm.
The primary care clinic offers medical services including the following:
Family Medicine for adults, seniors, and children
Immunizations and well-child exams
Physicals and annual exams
Behavioral health and counseling
HealthPoint accepts most types of insurance including Apple Health. A sliding fee scale is available for those without insurance and is based on income and family size. Interpreters are also available to visitors through RAYS for assistance during counseling sessions. The center will also be offering quarterly health education classes.
Appointment and information line: 206-772-2050
Kinship Caregiver Support Group meets twice monthly on the 2nd Tuesday and 4th Thursday. The peer support group and resource sharing is for anyone raising a relative’s child. Childcare and a light meal are provided.
(Disclosure: Cynthia Green is the mother of Marcus Green, the Editor-in-Chief of the South Seattle Emerald.)
Will Sweger is a contributor at the South Seattle Emerald and a resident of Beacon Hill. His work has appeared in Seattle Weekly, Curbed Seattle, The Urbanist, and Borgen Magazine. Find him on Twitter @willsweger