by Sally James
On a recent tour of the new Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic (OBCC) in Othello, artist Ari Glass came to see his own colorful work inside.
Along with creating a multistory mural for the clinic, Glass is also a father whose 4-year-old son is a patient at the existing clinic on Yesler. The new site operated by Seattle Children’s will open gradually over several weeks, with the first patients arriving on March 7.
“This is pretty cool,” Glass said, looking around at the big and brightly painted space. He might switch his son’s care to the new clinic which will take his family past his artwork. His mural stretches along a stairway leading from a dental clinic through an open stairway. It is full of whimsy and animals, as well as a small MLK sign.
Occupying two floors of a new seven-story building, the Othello clinic features medical, dental care, physical therapy, and sports medicine offices; a kitchen for nutrition classes; and a half-basketball court inside the Lenny Wilkens Recreation Center.
Tour guide Antwanette Lyons explained why the choice of room colors and arrangements required deep thinking. Lyons, who has worked for OBCC for 17 years, is the clinic’s community health advocacy manager.
“We wanted families not to feel any stigma about using behavioral health,” she said, explaining the decision to intersperse physical and behavioral exam rooms in the same hallways.
All rooms are equipped for medical staff to make multiple diagnoses, while some exam rooms are extra large to accommodate big families.
In the large waiting area, one mural that showcases inclusion features a child with a prosthetic leg in a large playground scene. There are 21 artists who contributed material for the walls and ceilings of the clinic.
During the tour, Lyons emphasized these details of inclusion and collaboration with the community of patients and families that had helped design the space. Teens were asked the paint colors they’d like to see. Team colors from Rainier Beach, Cleveland, and Franklin high schools are featured throughout the building. (But not Garfield’s, because, well, purple is apparently a stress color, an expert told the designers.)
A market space will hold free diapers and hygiene supplies, Lyons said. The clinic at Yesler, and the new Othello branch, primarily serve low-income families. Overall, the OBCC clinics will serve an estimated 30,000 families in the next year. Seattle Children’s estimates that 75% of families served by the existing Yesler clinic live in South Seattle.
In spite of the festive atmosphere over the new clinic opening, Seattle Children’s has been accused of racism and its past practices have drawn both lawsuits and criticism from a wide swath of community members. Ben Danielson, M.D., who was once the medical director, resigned in protest over actions he observed while leading OBCC for decades. Danielson wrote about this for the Emerald.
From the outside, the clinic building looks out toward a bustling Othello light-rail station and is next door to the public charter Salish Sea Elementary School. When Lyons showed one tour the staff lunchroom, she threw open a window and said the sound of the students at recess is a joyful noise for those on break.
A nonprofit child-care center, Tiny Tots, will open in the building in May. Owner Angelina Hicks-Maxie, who was on one tour, hopes to bring 84 children from her existing center to the new space.
Nationwide and locally, health-care jobs have been tricky to fill during the pandemic. Finding enough staff to run the new clinic has not been easy, according to senior medical director Shaquita Bell, M.D. “We still have some openings. Tell people to apply,” she said on the tour.
The opening has not been perfect. A very large electronic sign hanging in the lobby was turned off. The sign is large enough that City officials said it is a billboard that needs approval from City building inspectors to ensure it does not distract drivers.
For artist Glass, the clinic building looms across the street from one of his outdoor murals on the side of a Safeway. While inside the clinic, he could see a new view of this giant work. Similar to Glass’ shift in perspective, the clinic’s presence in the neighborhood may help patients see their health in new ways.
Sally James is a science writer in Seattle. You can read more of her work at SeattleScienceWriter.com. She’s written about biotech, cancer research, and health literacy and volunteered as president of the nonprofit Northwest Science Writers Association.
📸 Featured Image: The exterior of the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic in the Othello neighborhood. Photo Courtesy of Seattle Children’s.
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