Tri-City’s only free medical clinic sees rise in patient volumes, visits

Grace Clinic — the only free medical clinic in the Tri-Cities — is seeing a greater volume of patients, pointing to a greater need for volunteers and services.

In 2018, patient volume increased by 35 percent and there was a 25 percent increase in new patients over the previous year. Last year, the Kennewick clinic treated 1,200 to 1,300 patients, which accounted for about 7,000 patient visits.

“If you don’t have insurance and you don’t have a means to pay out of pocket, there aren’t other options,” said Mark Brault, volunteer CEO for Grace Clinic. “There is the emergency room, and there’s us. Until the problem they’re experiencing becomes so severe, sometimes it gets addressed too late.”

The most recent estimates from the Washington Insurance Commissioner indicate that there are 32,000 people in the Tri-City community without medical insurance.

“If you look across the business community, there is only a small percentage of retail, service and agriculture industry that provide health benefits,” Brault said.

To qualify for treatment at Grace Clinic, patients must prove they have income at or below 200 percent of federal poverty level. That means a family of four must earn $4,183 in gross monthly income, or $50,200 in gross yearly income, to qualify.

Grace Clinic opened its doors in 2002 for only a few hours every Saturday in the basement of a Methodist church in downtown Pasco. In those 16 years, it has recorded 72,000 patients visits.

The free clinic relies solely on the generosity of financial donors and volunteers. Apart from nine paid staff, the clinic is staffed and operated by volunteers. Its annual budget is about $500,000.

For medical services, the clinic offers everything from acute care to dental services to counseling.

It also offers a food pantry for patients, should they need it.

Grace Clinic does offer specialties like cardiology, audiology and gynecology services, depending on volunteer availability and if patients are referred by their primary care provider.

“Having a specialist here is so hugely valuable,” said Avonte Jackson, clinic director.

The clinic treats a high percentage of patients with diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, sinus infections and the flu. It also performs a lot of emergency dental procedures, such as extractions. The clinic can help patients access prescription medication through Walmart’s $4 prescription program or through a pharmaceutical company’s patient assistance program, or PAP.

“We have a PAP coordinator to help with that. There is about $300,000 worth of medication that comes through that program,” Brault said. “It’s not 100 percent satisfactory because there are limits in the PAP program but it meets the lion’s share of the need.”

In July 2017, the clinic was able to add another day to its schedule. It is now open five days a week, thanks to a partnership with Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland and Trios Health in Kennewick. The hospitals send third-year medical residents to Grace Clinic for rotations — sometimes four weeks a time.

Thanks to the partnership with Trios, which employs an osteopathic doctor, it was able to offer osteopathic manipulative treatments in early 2018.

Brault said the partnership helped address some long-standing gaps in the schedule as retired physician volunteers have had to stop volunteering due to health problems.

“Today, from a medical standpoint, we’re in a good position,” Brault said. “Today, the challenge is keeping up with the financial cost of operating. There is an increase in costs with substantially more patients.”

He also said that adding more dental volunteers is a priority and hopes to expand the clinic’s dental capabilities.

“Dental is the place where we have  (the) greatest imbalance between demand and capacity. We’re working to expand that capacity (in 2019),” Brault said. “The issue we face is that the vast majority of our dentist volunteers are not retired. They’re actively practicing, so their availability is principally on Saturdays.”

Brault said he hopes to implement a new volunteer model where dentists commit to volunteering three days a year and are assigned those days 90 days in advance.

“That way we can offer dental services more days of the week and help more people,” Brault said.

Information about how to donate to the clinic is available on its website.

Grace Clinic: 800 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick; gracecliniconline.org; 509-735-2300.

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