Seattle/King County free clinic helps nearly 3,000 people in the ‘missing middle’

Feb 23, 2024, 6:50 AM

Seattle/King County free clinic...

Dental practitioners volunteer at the Seattle/King County Free clinic. (Photo: Auston James/Seattle Center Foundation)

(Photo: Auston James/Seattle Center Foundation)

The lines were long and the waits for appointments were even longer, but in the end, organizers of this year’s Seattle/King County free clinic at Seattle Center said they were able to serve more than 2,900 patients needing medical, dental and vision care.

Olivia Sarriugate, a project manager who helped to organize the ninth annual event, said a big takeaway from the President’s Day Weekend clinic was how many insured people needed basic services.

“This year we saw a huge interest in just seeking medical care, prioritizing medical care,” she told KIRO Newsradio. “I think that’s really indicative of the growing gaps we’re seeing in our healthcare system. We primarily serve what we refer to as the ‘missing middle,’ which is folks who might make too much (money) to qualify for assistance, but definitely not enough to afford the care they really need.”

More on free clinics in King County: Free healthcare clinic to aid Washingtonians who can’t afford healthcare

Patients are asked anonymous questions about their living situations and insurance. This year, over 95% of them reported having a home. Approximately a third also have some sort of health insurance.

All are welcome to receive the free appointments, with no restrictions on things such as income level, citizenship or other forms of documentation.

Sarriugate said, just like in years past, patients started lining up the evening before with the doors opening at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion at 12:30 a.m. each morning from Feb 15 – 18.
The first appointment tickets were handed out each morning at 5:30 a.m. and after about two hours, all that day’s tickets were gone. Every day, hundreds who were seeking visits to doctors, dentists and optometrists had to be turned away.

“We could have seen more patients if we’d had more volunteer providers come through,” Sarriugate said. “There was definitely a need.”

A news release from The Seattle Center lists this year’s services as dental cleanings, fillings, extractions, eye examinations, physical exams, behavioral healthcare, immunizations, laboratory tests, mammograms, ultrasounds, x-rays and more.

More than 1,100 people sought services including specialized care like dermatology and acupuncture, while more than 1,500 had substantive dental work done. Social service agencies were on hand to help patients make connections to other needs, or help them sign up for health insurance.

Some 3,000 volunteers provided support this year. Their jobs ranged from doctors and nurses, to volunteer registrars and vital “runners,” who escorted each patient from Fisher Pavilion to the various care centers at McCaw Hall, The Exhibition Hall and the Cornish Playhouse on the Seattle Center grounds.

More from Lisa Brooks: 3 Seattle-area high school jazz bands named finalists at prestigious jazz competition

One doctor donating some of her time was 8th Dist. WA U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier. Because she is a licensed physician, she was able to help with patient intake, including recording vital signs and assisting others in referrals to appropriate areas for care.

Since the free clinic services began in 2014, some 27,000 patients have been given care. Sarriugate said she is always moved by who comes to give and who receives help.

“These are our neighbors, They’re our family, They’re our friends,” Sarriugate said. “Each one of us usually sees someone that we know. A lot of volunteers become patients (and) a lot of patients become volunteers.”

You can read more of Lisa Brooks’ stories here. Follow Lisa on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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