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caption: People get free dental care at the 2015 Seattle King County free clinic
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People get free dental care at the 2015 Seattle King County free clinic
Credit: Photo Courtesy of Seattle King County Clinic Auston James

Free health care clinic returns to KeyArena this week

Thousands of people will have access to free health care in Seattle this week. For the fifth year in a row, the massive volunteer-run Seattle/King County Clinic is returning to KeyArena.

It’s expected to serve roughly 4,000 people between Thursday and Sunday this week. 

A range of services are available at the clinic. There are more than 100 dental operatories where people can get services like fillings and tooth extractions. There are nearly 60 medical treatment rooms where patients have access to services including wound care, x-rays, immunizations, and physical and behavioral health checks. People also have access to eye exams and free glasses.

It's first come, first served so people who want to be seen need to line up.

John Merner is the director of Seattle Center productions and an organizer of the annual clinic. He said there’s an indoor area to the east of KeyArena where people can wait in line starting Wednesday night. That area opens at 12.30 a.m. Tickets will be handed out starting at 5 a.m. Thursday morning to secure a person’s place in line for a particular service. Patients can begin entering the clinic at 6.30 a.m.

Other than the need to line up, Merner said there are no other restrictions.

"You don't need to prove your financial status, you don't need to prove your citizenship, you don't need to prove anything other than you're here and you need some help,” he said.

Merner said concerns arise each year about different health issues.

This year, he said there will be a focus on HIV testing after an uptick in cases in North Seattle.

The clinic offers a chance for thousands of people who are homeless in Seattle and King County to access free health care.

However, Merner said they serve a range of patients each year, including those who have health insurance but can’t afford to use it.

“They might be able to get in and see their doctor but the minute they say, ‘I’m going to send you to the lab,’ well that’s not covered and they have to go home.”

Merner said specialists or tests like x-rays are often unaffordable for people who attend the free clinic.

“Maybe half of our patients have some form of health care that they can’t afford to use,” he said. 

In its first four years, this event at KeyArena provided $14 million in direct services to more than 16,000 patients who spoke 51 primary languages, according to organizers.

The clinic is staffed by volunteers and Merner said every year people are astonished by the gratitude they receive.

“They tell us that they’re reminded of why they got into this field in the first place,” Merner said. 

Correction, 4:00 p.m. 9/19/18 : The original version of this piece misstated the times the waiting area and doors open, and the time tickets are distributed.