Photo depicting Dr. Shaquita Bell (center) speaking with patients in a waiting room.

OPINION | The Future of Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic in the Central District

by Shaquita Bell, M.D.

The Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic opened more than 50 years ago in its original home in the Central District. That first location on East Spruce Street was the fruit of Ms. Odessa Brown’s vision that no child should be denied health care because of their race. 

That clinic was the home to OBCC for about a decade. In 1980, we moved into the location on Yesler Way that is now a fixture of the Central District — a place where patients and families get needed care regardless of anyone’s ability to pay and no matter anyone’s background. 

I made the difficult decision recently with the support of fellow leaders at Seattle Children’s to temporarily close the Central District location after the discovery that the building needed major repairs that would be too disruptive for our patients and families. This decision was ultimately mine, and I wanted to share my thinking about this temporary closure. 

We will not abandon the Central District. This neighborhood is our history and original home. We want and must be where our patients and families live. We know that more than 70% of our patients and families have left the Central District due to racism and gentrification that’s pushed many of our neighbors south. That is why Seattle Children’s and the OBCC team worked to raise money and build our new facility in Othello, a location that brings the mission of Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic closer to where many of our patients have been pushed south to.

That being said, when we made the decision to temporarily close the Central District location, we were still seeing a full schedule of patients each day. Anyone who entered would see a buzz of activity as patients and families would arrive daily for checkups, dentist visits, vaccinations, or to access our free pantry that supplied families needing everything from bread to formula and diapers. We ran COVID-19 vaccine clinics there and advised parents on all the challenges of raising healthy babies to teenagers. They would see Odessa Brown’s vision as a true reality every single day. I love working in the Central District and I want to be very clear — again — we will provide those services and more in the Central District again. 

Second, as anyone who’s lived through construction or even basic building maintenance knows, surprises can happen. Every building has a list of known maintenance items and general upkeep. Then there are maintenance needs that might need to be addressed a year or two or five years down the line. 

Here is what I know about the needed repairs. During a project to repair the weather barrier and assess the structural integrity of OBCC Central District, structural issues came to light that were well beyond plans for existing renovations. The repairs would be necessary right in our most used and active clinical spaces. There is also still a lot we don’t know, but delivering a positive experience for patients, their families, and workforce members is a priority; therefore, the decision was made to close the Central District location for the time being to fully evaluate the situation and develop a plan moving forward.

I am acutely aware that some of our Central District patients and families are feeling disrupted by the need to commute south for appointments in this interim period. I truly apologize for that and know it is not a small inconvenience. Please know we are trying to make it easier by providing resources that can be found at the OBCC website, OBCC Facebook page, and Seattle Children’s Construction Blog

We are also in regular conversations with leaders at Carolyn Downs who own a 51% stake in the Central District building and provide care to many of our patients’ parents, guardians, and grandparents.

As a leader and a pediatrician who began seeing patients at OBCC during my residency 16 years ago, I am optimistic about OBCC’s future and looking forward to building an even bigger community. We have an opportunity now to do something new in the Central District. To ask big questions about how we could remodel or build something that will even better serve our community. We can use this as an opportunity to see if there are new services we should provide our patients and families and new community spaces. To envision how we could be even stronger in the Central District. This is something we can all do together and in the conversations I’ve had with families to date, I’ve seen most share my enthusiasm about what we can build together as a community. 

Finally, I would like to thank all the people who make up the true heart and soul of OBCC. It is not about a building or any one person. It’s about the many babies, children, adolescents, teenagers, parents, guardians, doctors, nurses, office staff, janitors, social workers, behavioral health specialists, dentists, care coordinators, and the many others who contribute to making OBCC so special and such an important part of people’s lives. So many of you have adapted to this temporary change with grace, wonderful questions, and patience. I am grateful for you and promise that we will come out of this period an even stronger OBCC. 

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Shaquita Bell, M.D., is the senior medical director of Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic.

📸 Featured Image: (Photo: Carson Artac)

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