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Seattle/King County Clinic fills vital gaps for those without health insurance

The Seattle/King County Clinic in 2016. (AP)

You’ve had a nagging pain in your tooth you have been ignoring for months. You want to go get it checked out by a dentist, but if it needs a filling — or worse, a root canal and crown, or even an extraction — that is an expense you simply cannot afford right now. So you wait and live with the pain, and hope that it will go away on its own.

For many Americans who live without health insurance, or whose health insurance is limited, that scenario is an all-too-familiar reality. When it comes to having to make rent and car payments, getting a dental exam becomes a luxury that has to fall by the wayside.

That’s where the annual Seattle/King County Clinic comes in. The four-day clinic, run by the Seattle Center Foundation in partnership with a variety of nonprofits throughout the region, provides medical, dental, and vision care for anyone in need.

Through Sunday, nearly 1,000 volunteers will donate their time and efforts to give physicals, immunizations, X-rays, ultrasounds, blood work, women’s health treatment, physical therapy, acupuncture, wound care, dermatology, chiropractic care, nutrition counseling, teeth cleaning, fillings, extractions, root canals, eye exams, eyeglasses.

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Additionally, aid in the form of knowledge is provided — social work, health insurance assistance, health education, and help with continuing care. If a patient is diagnosed with a condition that will require more treatment, additional services will be offered by the Seattle/King County Clinic.

Deborah Daoust, Seattle Center communications director, said at least 750 patients are expected each day.

In past years, the clinic has saved the lives of people who ignored critical symptoms due to financial difficulties. Thanks to the Seattle/King County Clinic, these patients were able to find out they had cancer or other serious illnesses, and receive free or reduced treatment at local health centers.

“People who don’t have the health resources often try to ignore what’s bothering them in their body, and they don’t need to do that,” Daoust said. “At least there are these stop-gap measures that provide the medical expertise that they need, and also the continuity of care.”

Daoust said that the clinic welcomes everyone, not just homeless individuals or those most in need. A variety of people will seek aid at this clinic, including seniors on Medicare, working people who don’t have dental and vision, and small business owners who do not have health insurance.

“A clinic like this shouldn’t be needed in a society like the United States, but the reality is, people might be fully employed, might be working three jobs, and none of those jobs have health insurance,” she said. “And health insurance, without getting it through your employer, can be very costly.”

The Seattle/King County Clinic also turns no one away based on language barriers — interpreters are on site, and questions of citizenship or immigration status are not asked.

Individuals seeking treatment do not need to live in Seattle or King County.

Wait times can be up to several hours, so be sure to wear comfortable clothing, bring water and snacks. Daoust recommended that people show up as early as they can, and visit on Thursday or Friday if possible, as weekends tend to be busiest.

“It will be a long day — everything is offered for free, but there is a process for going through the clinic,” Daoust said.

Extra screenings will be done this year in light of the coronavirus outbreak, but Daoust said people with urgent issues typically seek help at the emergency room instead of this clinic.

While the clinic does not open its doors until 6:30 a.m., patients can line up in Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion starting at 12:30 a.m. Free parking will be provided at Mercer Garage across from Seattle Center.

For more information, visit the Seattle Center Foundation’s website.

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