Free annual health clinic at KeyArena offers marathon of medicine


“You can’t do more good in less time than in this place.”

That’s what one practitioner said at last year’s Seattle/King County Clinic at Seattle Center. And at this year’s clinic, patient counts are up.

“We broke a patient service record yesterday,” said Deborah Daoust, Seattle Center Communications Director, of Thursday’s clinic, with 1,049 patients seen on day one. The clinic increased the number of tickets available for Friday, and increases in patient count over last year’s clinic are expected for Saturday and Sunday.

For the third straight year, Seattle Center has becomes a giant, walk-in clinic where thousands of patients from all walks of life are seen by doctors, dentists and nurses and treated at no charge. Thousands of medical professionals are donating medical, dental, vision and mental health services and screenings to anyone, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. No identification or proof of citizenship is required. Tickets are given out on a first-come, first-served basis at Fisher Pavilion, adjacent to KeyArena.

The four marathon days are full of good medical practice and lots of emotion. “It’s the best part of being a doctor,” Says Dr. Claudia Finkelstein, Clinic Primary Care Director, “The glory of a medical encounter, which is person-to person, face-to face. It’s just too bad that something like this is necessary.”

skcc-c2015austonjames-0248The entire KeyArena complex and three other Seattle Center buildings have been transformed into a maze of exam and treatment areas, dental stations, eye exam rooms and physical therapy areas. The luxury boxes of the Key are private exam rooms for doctors—conveniently, they each have their own restroom. Hundreds of pieces of medical equipment—x-ray machines, ultrasound sensors, exam lights and benches, dental chairs, and a complete blood lab have been brought in.

Also at the clinic are 3,000 volunteers, many of them working multiple days, who join the many doctors, dentists, nurses, medical technicians, counselors and social workers. At least $3.5 million in direct services will be provided, and over a hundred partner organizations ranging from Group Health Cooperative to Brooks (running shoes) are also involved.

The complex operation is funded by Seattle Center Foundation, with lots of partner and donor help. And Seattle Center is the perfect place to do it, says John Merner, Director of Seattle Center Productions.

“Medical professionals can fix a leg, but they don’t know how to stage a giant event. That’s what we’re good at.”

Merner notes how efficient and fast the care can be when volunteer medical professionals can walk into a fully-prepared operation without having to do the paperwork that accompanies our conventional health care delivery system.

“Seattle Center has a million moving parts to make this a first class event, says Dental Clinic Co-Director Dr. Jeffrey Parrish. “One part of KeyArena is a sea of dental chairs.”

Each stations is plumbed with water and electricity. The dental area is staffed by 700 dentists, hygienists, assistants and lab techs. Many patients are seeking dental treatment because of maladies caused by putting off what they believe is an unaffordable visit to the dentist. And that is increasingly detrimental to overall health, says Dr. Parrish.

“Its four days of good medicine and lots of emotion, “ says Dr. Claudia Finklestein, Clinic Primary Care Director.

The clinic helps to address the giant gap in our healthcare system, those who are uninsured and underinsured. Last year, 31% of patients reported not having insurance, and an additional 47% said they couldn’t afford care or were able to access services.

Fisher Pavilion opens early in the morning for shelter, and tickets are available at 5:30AM, with the clinic opening at 6:30. Patients will can receive medical and dental care, or vision and medical care in the same day, or just one type of care. Patients cannot receive dental and vision care in the same day.

clinic_3275_2014caustonjamesLong lines are expected, so patients are asked to bring food and water, and any medications they may need during the day. Bag checks will be available for large items. Translators will be on-site.

Services available include:

  • Medical services: routine exams, PAP smears, X-rays, EKGs, mammograms, ultrasounds, immunization, and behavioral health.
  • Dental services: fillings, extractions, x-rays and deep cleaning.
  • Vision services: screening, dilated eye exams, glaucoma screening, reading and prescription glasses (patients may get a recent eyeglass prescription, no older than a year, to get eyeglasses).
  • Services NOT provided include narcotics or narcotics prescriptions, biopsies, casts, CT scans, sutures, children’s immunizations.

A complete list of available services, FAQs for patients and volunteers, and other info is available here:

All photos by Auston James, courtesy of Seattle/King County Clinic.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Stephen Hegg

Stephen Hegg

Stephen is formerly a senior video producer at Crosscut and KCTS 9. He specialized in arts and culture.