By Jill Christensen
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
On the mainstage at KeyArena were over 750 dentists providing free dental work to more than a thousand patients each day, as the arena transformed from a concert venue and sports arena to a free pop-up clinic.
From Oct. 26-29, the Seattle/King County Clinic was held in the KeyArena at the Seattle Center for its fourth year.
Run by volunteers in collaboration with the Seattle Center and multiple community organizations, this clinic offered free dental, vision, and medical care, for the uninsured, underinsured, underserved, and vulnerable populations.
Patients were not required to bring any form of identification or disclose any personal information. “We find that a lot of people have insurance, but their insurance isn’t enough,” said Meredith Li-Vollmer, outreach lead for the clinic.
Last year, 47 percent of patients reported they did not have health insurance, according to the Seattle/King County Clinic 2016 Final Report.
Starting at 12:30 a.m., Fisher Pavilion opened for patients to wait in line until 5 a.m., when they could receive a ticket to be seen as a patient.
“Friday, I came here at night and waited till 5 o’clock in the morning, when they distributed the tickets and until 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I was here,” said Azjargal Burneebaatare, a patient originally from Mongolia. “But it’s okay because it’s only two or three days and I have no complaints… it’s such an excellent service.”
The clinic aims to help over a thousand people each day and last year, according to the 2016 Final Report, the clinic provided care to 4,492 patients, with the help of 3,947 volunteers.
“What I love about it is, I mean it kind of gives me the chills when I even talk about it, is how this is really a community-driven event,” Li-Vollmer said.
Besides the patients, everyone else at the clinic were volunteers, giving up their time to help provide healthcare to a vulnerable community of people.
“I think that’s pretty neat, the fact that we can use our professional skills to actually help out the community…I think that’s probably what touches my heart the most is seeing the number of people who are so willing to give their time and just bend over backwards to really just do what they can,” said Annie Kwan, a dentist at a community health center who worked at the clinic.
When people came into the clinic, they were directed to a patient intake area, where nurses take their blood pressure, vital statistics, etc. From there, volunteers determined what services the patient needed.
“I think dental is the most in demand because a lot of people don’t have dental, even if they have insurance, it’s not covered,” Li-Vollmer said. “It’s hard to find low cost dental alternatives, where there are more options for medical services that are low cost.”
This year, there was something new — there were community health centers on site to provide information about other low cost health care alternatives.
“We are hoping that this provides people with a way to get the immediate care they need,” Li-Vollmer said.
However, because of the limited number of volunteers and space, not every patient can receive the care they need.
“We are used to being able to do everything… [like] wanting to do the neighboring tooth if we see that there is something to be done … but I feel like with these clinics, you kind of want to be able to provide as much care as possible,” Kwan said.
Besides dental and vision, some of the medical services offered included acupuncture, flu vaccines, rapid HIV tests, ultrasounds, and X-rays.
“There are other free clinics that pop up in other parts of the country, but what makes this one unique is the services,” Li-Vollmer said. “We offer a lot of specialty services … because even if you have a basic insurance plan, you might not be able to afford the copay for a mammogram or an X-ray.”
All of the luxury suites in the KeyArena were transformed into exam rooms, where people could be treated for medical care in private.
“I work for the public health department and when we first heard the Seattle Center wanted to do this, we thought what does Seattle Center have to do with health clinics? What we realized was what we know about health… we don’t know how to set up an event of this scale, but the people here know how to do that and that’s why it works so well,” Li-Vollmer said. “Looking at it, you think ‘Oh this arena was meant to be a giant pop-up clinic.’”
For patients that need language assistance, there were on-site volunteer interpreters, as well as video interpreting machines.
“I’ve never had an experience like this where the patient relies on me so heavily,” said Kelly Song, a Mandarin interpreter.
“We know that this clinic is not a long-term solution to healthcare,” Li-Vollmer said. “There are much larger problems that need to be solved … we would love to see those gaps in healthcare fixed, so we don’t have to have this clinic anymore.”
Jill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.