Majority of Grace Clinic’s patients have jobs but no insurance

The majority of the patients Grace Clinic serves work hard at their jobs to make ends meet – but they don’t have health insurance.

They arrive at the Kennewick clinic seeking free medical care offered by a team of compassionate medical professionals who volunteer their time.

“Most of our patients, and many of our volunteers, work at local businesses … By offering free health care, we are literally strengthening the workforce by helping people work and care for their families,” said Avonte Jackson, Grace Clinic’s director.

The Tri-Cities’ only free health care clinic turned 20 this summer and recently celebrated its 100,000th patient visit.

“What’s important to understand is it’s 100,000 times someone walked in to access a service they wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Grace Clinic CEO Mark Brault, who was named the 2022 Tri-Citian of the Year.

Filling a community need

The clinic provides free medical, urgent dental, mental health counseling, telehealth, prescription assistance and food pantry access to low-income residents of Benton and Franklin counties and Burbank, which is in Walla Walla County. Their patients’ annual income must be at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, or $55,500 for a family of four.

More than 32,000 Tri-Citians lack health insurance, or a little more than 10% of the population, according to Grace Clinic estimates.

Brault said 96% of Grace Clinic’s patients are working people.

“Nobody else wants them, but we want them,” said Andrea McMakin, Grace Clinic’s communications coordinator.

Brault said when people don’t have access to health insurance, access to health care is significantly constrained since many providers won’t see uninsured patients.

As a survey of Grace Clinic’s patients revealed, between 52% and 56% seek care at an emergency room if the clinic didn’t exist.

Federal law legally obligates emergency rooms to attend to those seeking care, but the ER is one of the most expensive of health care options and isn’t intended to address issues that are non-emergent or dealing with chronic disease.

As Brault explained, hospitals provide some charity care, but the costs associated with uncompensated care are typically shifted to people with private insurance since it’s the only place prices can be raised when confronted with fixed-rate Medicare and Medicaid.

“So, when we keep people out of the hospital, then there is less cost that has to be shifted,” he said, emphasizing that Grace Clinic doesn’t compete with hospitals, but supports them by providing the services uninsured patients need but can’t obtain elsewhere.

Reza Kaleel, chief executive officer at Providence of Southeast Washington, agreed: “Grace Clinic plays a key role in our community’s health care safety net, delivering care to under-served residents. It does so in a way that’s very much in line with Kadlec and Providence’s vision of health for a better world.”

Bridging the gap

Grace Clinic is able to accomplish its mission through donor support and the efforts of its 200 to 250 active volunteers from the local medical community – most of whom are still working – who serve in the clinic between once a week and once a month, based on how much time they have available to give.

“They really enjoy spending time at the clinic because they really enjoy doing what they love without the hassle of billing and everything else that goes into a traditional medical practice,” said Brault, a volunteer himself. “They can just focus on the patient and apply their skills in a comfortable, low-pressure environment and help people they wouldn’t be able to necessarily see at their own practices.”

The value of the labor over the last 20 years – if it had been paid– would total over $8 million and 215,000 hours, Brault said.

Manuel meets with Dr. Joshua Lum at Grace Clinic to monitor a chronic condition. He said he wants to stay strong like the superhero on his T-shirt. Lum is a family medicine specialist who volunteers at Grace Clinic and practices at a Kadlec Clinic in Kennewick. Manuel’s last name was not released to protect his privacy (Courtesy Grace Clinic)

The value of the services provided over that period exceeds $35 million.

“For every $100 donated, patients receive more than $430 in services,” he said.

In addition, Grace Clinic provides the opportunity for nursing and medical students working on their residency at local hospitals to simultaneously complete their education and also contribute to a charitable cause.

“In this community in particular, we have a real shortage of having enough clinical people, physicians, nurses and mental health counselors. We’re helping to feed the pipeline of medical professionals in the community. There are no days when we don’t have someone in clinic in the middle of training. Most days there are multiple people,” Brault said.

Bevan Briggs, academic director at Washington State University Tri-Cities College of Nursing, called Grace Clinic an essential partner for WSU College of Nursing at WSU Tri-Cities.

“Students in our nurse practitioner and pre-licensure nursing programs have clinical experiences there. In an environment where clinical placement for students is extremely difficult and extremely important, they provide an excellent learning environment,” he said.

Dr. Cindie Preszler, Grace Clinic’s director of counseling, said that since 2010, 22 of its counseling interns have gone on to join local businesses or open their own practices locally.

“Not only does this expand the mental health treatment capacity in the Tri-Cities, but it also augments our community’s business economy,” she said.

Jackson, who recently received the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Athena Leadership Award, said the clinic is an excellent example of the relationship between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.

Humble beginnings

Grace Clinic launched in June 2002 in the basement of the First United Methodist Church in Pasco by Drs. Carol Endo and Cheryl Snyder, local physicians who would see patients in need free-of-charge for four hours each Saturday.

Ten years later, the clinic expanded into its current location at the former Benton Franklin Health District Building, 800 W. Canal Drive in Kennewick. It began operating for four days per week and offered diabetic care and mental health and dental services.

Five years later, in 2017, Grace Clinic was open five days per week and third-year residents were completing their education at Kadlec Regional Medical Center and Trios Health hospitals began serving rotations there.

Future expansion

Brault said its dental program will be expanded in the new year. “We do mostly urgent dentals – extractions, abscesses. After the first of the year, we’re going to … be able to do more routine dentistry.”

He said Grace Clinic also is working on a mental health expansion that will take place next year.

“To grow and expand what we do, we have to grow our base of support, both in terms of funding and volunteers. In a for-profit operation, you expand over here and it generates more revenue, but for us, when we expand, it creates more cost,” Brault said.

He said the clinic is funded predominately by individuals, service clubs and the broader community.

Basin Pacific Insurance and Benefits is one such community donor.

“Grace Clinic is a testament to how we all should serve those in need in our community. … We have supported Grace Clinic both personally and through our business because Grace Clinic epitomizes what true community service should be. If you have never visited Grace Clinic you owe it to yourself and others to do so. You will be inspired,” said Brad Toner, managing partner at Basin Pacific.

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

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