Despite increased access to care through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), occasional large-scale free clinics address unmet health needs and can play an important role in connecting individuals to services in the community, concludes a report from a task force co-led by a University of Washington School of Public Health faculty member.
[Photo: Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett]
Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, senior lecturer of health services, co-chaired the Free Clinic Advisory Board with Ms. Christine Lindquist, executive director of the Washington Healthcare Access Alliance. The task force met for more than a year to address issues arising from the first Seattle/King County Clinic, a large-scale event held over several days in October 2014 at Key Arena at Seattle Center.
The clinic drew 3,400 patients who needed medical, dental, and vision care. Families drove from across the state, some waiting in line all night to get in when doors opened at 6 am. “Many reported sleeping in their cars so that they could be sure to have a spot in line to have a tooth extracted, or to receive a pair of eyeglasses,” Dr. Kwan-Gett and Ms. Lindquist wrote.
A second clinic, in October 2015, drew more than 4,000 patients; more than 31 percent reported having no insurance and nearly half said they couldn’t otherwise afford care.
“The need is clear: socioeconomic inequality, geography, and provider distribution contribute to barriers to healthcare access in Washington State,” the report states. “Wealth and economic opportunity are unevenly distributed. Across the state, significant health disparities persist. But what is the role of events like the Seattle/King County Clinic in addressing these disparities? How can events such as the clinic contribute to lasting change, and not simply be a ‘band aid’ for a broken healthcare system?”
The report identifies ways the clinic positively affected the health care system and includes recommendations for other communities considering holding short-term free clinics. An appendix includes a number of tools, including a budget planning template, health record forms, registration and survey forms, and clinic evaluation tools developed by graduate students in the University of Washington Community Oriented Public Health Practice Program.
Mr. Larry Chang, a senior majoring in public health at the University of Washington, served as a student volunteer helping staff the committee’s work.
Links: Free Clinic Advisory Board Report http://ow.ly/10AX4R