Free health clinic is back at Seattle Center
The Seattle and King County free health clinic is once again running at full capacity this week.
Thursday through Sunday, the clinic at Seattle Center offers free medical, vision, and dental care to anyone who needs it.
The annual clinic has been running for years. It’s designed to fill the health care safety net gaps in the region for those who struggle to afford or access health care.
But, like many other things, the pandemic caused disruptions for the event.
This week is the first time since 2020 that the clinic is open with its full slate of volunteer-run services on offer, and organizers are expecting high turnout.
That expectation seemed to be reinforced Thursday as a crowd gathered at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion before dawn. Some people waited overnight; others arrived in the early morning hours.
Admission tickets for the clinic are distributed beginning at 5:30 a.m. each day, from April 27 through April 30.
There are a limited number of tickets each day, and the number individuals get determines how long they’ll wait to be seen.
Nadiya Olusola arrived at 4:30 a.m. on Thursday.
"That's a little late for me. I came a couple of years before and so I know it's important to come early," she said.
Olusola came for dental work and a medical checkup.
Even though she arrived before the sun was up, her ticket was number 191, and Olusola expected at least a four-hour wait before being seen.
She brought her laptop and some things to read to pass the time.
Olusola came to this clinic pre-pandemic, and she said not having access to the free dental care the past few years was tough.
"I needed a root canal; I wear a flipper and I lost that and so I stopped smiling so much," Olusola said.
A flipper is a partial, removable denture.
When asked what it means for her to be able to get that fixed, Olusola said it’s life-changing.
“It just gives you a beautiful smile and so I'm very grateful. I'm very grateful for the services and for the opportunity to be here," she said.
"Money-wise, it gives me back those resources that I would have had to make payments on," she added. "And then I can put that towards the car."
Olusola said one of the hurdles she’s faced accessing dental care is transportation.
She’s got a new job and is hoping she’ll soon find a car she can afford.
The free clinic is designed to help remove barriers to care, especially for people who have low income, who are under-insured, or who are uninsured.
Anyone can come for treatment — no ID, proof of immigration status, or paperwork required. Interpreters are also available.
People here can get a whole suite of services, including fillings, tooth extractions, eye exams, prescription glasses, physical exams, x-rays, wound care, and more.
There’s also an area to get mammograms.
Dr. Janie Lee is a radiologist with the University of Washington and the Fred Hutch Cancer Center, she reads the mammogram images.
She said her team is expecting high demand during this year’s clinic.
“Historically, we have had many women who come to this clinic for women's health care, primary care, and in particular for breast cancer screening with mammography."
Lee said her team not only screens people, but they can also connect them with free follow up care if anything is found, covering what she calls the full “episode” of care and not just the scan.
Lee said that makes a difference because people who have no insurance, or insurance with very high co-pays, sometimes are more reluctant to initiate care because they worry about the downstream costs.
"Once people understand that, and they have a positive experience with us, they return year over year," she said.
Lee, and other volunteers KUOW spoke with, are thrilled to be offering services at the clinic again.
Dr. Brittany Dean is the dental director for the clinic.
For her, she said, it feels somewhat like a homecoming.
She enjoys offering services that can have a big impact for people.
“People are willing to wait overnight in line to get a ticket to come here for a single service, and to me that means that it's really important to them. And so it's a really wonderful feeling to be able to give that gift to somebody."
On Thursday, 821 individuals received admission tickets. Organizers hope to serve more than 3,000 people over the clinic’s four days.
Masks are required for all attendees, and organizers encourage people to come prepared for a long day.
By the end of the day on Thursday, about 12 hours after she arrived, Nadiya Olusola had seen the dentist.
She got two fillings and said she was thrilled with the care she received. She plans to pick up her brand new partial denture on Saturday, and is looking forward to having her smile back.
Olusola said she hopes to return to the clinic next year as a volunteer.