Photo depicting patients reclined in chairs while medical volunteers administer dental services to the patients.

Annual Free Clinic at Climate Pledge Arena Canceled for Scheduled Concerts

by Agueda Pacheco Flores

The annual free medical clinic that was formerly held at the Key Arena, before it was bought by Amazon and renamed to the Climate Pledge Arena, will not return in full this year. 

The Seattle/King County Clinic, usually scheduled during the month of October, provided vision, dental, and general medical care to hundreds of patients who were either low-income, underinsured, or homeless. 

The clinic also doesn’t ask for proof of citizenship or personal information. The clinic also has its own comic book which explains its origins and mission with art from an array of local artists, which is also available online. This year only patients seeking eye exams or visual care will have a clinic available to them at a different location. 

Seattle Center’s clinic project director Julia Colson broke the news to volunteers and people involved in the clinic via an email in February. In the email, provided to the South Seattle Emerald, Colson wrote, “It is with deep regret that we announce, due to the loss of dates in Climate Pledge Arena and the inability to find alternate options, there will not be a complete Seattle/King County Clinic in 2022.”

Colson wrote they would explore ways to offer the clinic again in 2023.

Since 2014, the clinic has provided an estimated $20 million in dental, visual, medical, and social care to some 23,000 patients, according to the email. 

A spokesperson for Seattle Center wrote in an email that Oak View Group (OVG) and Climate Pledge Arena are committed to bringing back the clinic in future years and were working towards bringing the full clinic back in April of next year.

“Both OVG and Seattle Center view this as a cherished community resource and understand its importance,” the statement reads. 

The Climate Pledge Arena has offered its Northgate practice facility for a week, but due to the logistics, “from the difficulty of securing medical equipment, to moving infrastructure and staff resources,” only a vision clinic will be offered.

A Zac Brown Band concert on Oct. 20 and The Who’s Oct. 22 concert at the arena are scheduled on the dates usually set aside for the clinic.

Zac Brown Band’s publicity contact and The Who’s charity, Who Cares Teen Cancer America, did not return requests for comment. A media request to the Climate Pledge Arena was also not returned by press time. 

In a petition launched by Dr. Rick Arnold, a medical lead volunteer for the clinic, wrote that due to the pandemic, patients have gone without necessary care for at least two years and claimed Oak View Group was not fulfilling their side of an agreement.

“Unfortunately the Oak View Group has backed out of the previously agreed upon dates for the Clinic in 2022, choosing instead to book other events in Climate Pledge Arena on those dates,” he wrote. “This action is not what community-oriented partners should do.”

Photo depicting patients seated along a long table as medical volunteers assist them with paperwork on laptops.
People register for services at the February 2020 Seattle/King County Clinic held at McCaw Hall due to renovations at Key Arena. (Photo: Susan Fried)

In years past, patients would begin to line up for the first-come, first-served clinic the night before. The event, normally held at Key Arena, was moved in 2020 to McCaw Hall as it was being renovated.

“I run the overnight line which is a brutal thing,” says Michael Chandler, a longtime clinic volunteer. “People would come to be seen like 20 hours before they would open so we would have a line of people at 11 o’clock at night to get health care the next day.”

Hundreds of patients would be seen over the weekend by dozens of volunteer medical staff. The clinic offered a lifeline to people, in one instance catching a woman’s cancer before it became a greater risk to her health. 

“I don’t think people understand the scope or need until they’re actually there or see it,” he explains. “There’s migrant workers with little kids and in my mind, if you have a kid under the age of 12 and need some kind of medical care, you should just get that.”

Chandler, who has worked production for various other events at Seattle Center in the past, said it was heartbreaking to hear the clinic wasn’t happening this year because of a music concert, but also understood why decision-makers who just had a brand new arena built may choose to go forward with concerts. 

“You gotta pay that all off,” he posits. 

Julia Konkell, another volunteer disappointed about the absence of this year’s clinic, said the impact and importance couldn’t be measured just with numbers. 

“It is easy for a large company to look at profits and not understand the human cost,” she wrote in an email, adding, “We can put numbers on the millions of dollars of care provided, but it’s in seeing people being taken care of with dignity and respect that you understand the true human impact.”

Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist focusing on Latinx culture and Mexican American identity. Originally from Querétaro, Mexico, Pacheco is inspired by her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.

📸 Featured Image: Hundreds of patients attended the last annual clinic which offered free medical, dental, and vision services in February 2020. The event, which usually saw people waiting in line overnight for a chance at free medical services, was suspended in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Susan Fried)

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