October 26, 2017
Photos by Matt M. McKnight | Story by Mason Bryan
Sprawled across KeyArena’s hardwood floors are more exam chairs than you’ve ever seen. Dental professionals stand perched over wide-mouthed patients, peering in, cleaning teeth, examining gums and filling cavities. In the upper-deck box seats wait a dizzying range of health care providers: acupuncturists, nutritionists, podiatrists, mental health counselors, physical therapists and more. Everywhere are blue-clad community advocates disseminating wisdom on health insurance, along with poly-lingual volunteers answering questions. Downstairs, optometrists administer eye exams and pass out prescriptions.
From now until Sunday, thousands of men, women and children will descend on Seattle Center to take advantage of these health services, among others. A four-day operation, Seattle/King County Clinic is the largest pop-up health center in the state. It is free and open to all.
When Crosscut arrived at nearby Fisher Pavilion early Thursday morning, it was near capacity. The room was filled with sleepy faces, but spirits were high.
Organizers anticipate that through Sunday, over three thousand volunteers, alongside more than one hundred health organizations, will come together to serve around four thousand patients.
The clinic’s project director, Julia Colson, said she hoped the clinic, more than just providing care to those in need, would be a “conversation starter.” A conversation about what? About why such an enormous investment of time, labor and compassion — represented in the form of this sprawling hub of dental, vision and medical care — is necessary in the first place.
At a time when affordable health insurance eludes many, the free community clinic has not attempted to hide its politics. Again and again throughout the morning, patients, providers and volunteers stressed the challenges of health care access and equity. The clinic “is an amazing stopgap,” said Claire Siegel, a nurse from Country Doctor Community Clinic, “filling a pretty horrific gap in our larger health care needs.”