The majority of patients served by Grace Clinic work hard at their jobs to make ends meet—but they don’t have health insurance.
They arrive at Kennewick Clinic in search of free medical care provided by a team of sympathetic medical professionals who volunteer their time.
“Most of our patients and many of our volunteers work for local businesses…by providing free healthcare, we are actually strengthening the workforce by helping people work and take care of their families,” said Avonte Jackson, Director of Grace Clinic.
The Tri-Cities’ only free healthcare clinic turned 20 this summer and recently celebrated its 100,000th patient visit.
“It’s important to understand that it’s 100,000 times someone has entered to access a service they wouldn’t otherwise have,” said Mark Broult, CEO of Grace Clinic, who was named the 2022 Tri-Citian of the Year.
meet the needs of the community
The clinic provides urgent medical and treatment consultations for dental, mental health, telehealth, prescription assistance and pantry access to low-income residents of Benton, Franklin and Burbank counties located in Walla Walla County. The annual income of their patients 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 just over 10% of the population, according to the Grace Clinic estimates.
Braultt said 96% of Grace Clinic patients are working people.
“Nobody wants them, but we do,” said Andrea McMackin, communications coordinator at Grace Clinic.
When people don’t have access to health insurance, Braault said, access to health care is significantly restricted because many providers will not see uninsured patients.
As revealed by a survey of Grace Clinic patients, between 52% and 56% would seek emergency room care if a clinic was not present.
Federal law requires emergency rooms to be present for those seeking care, but the emergency room is one of the most expensive health care options and is not intended to treat non-emergent problems or dealing with chronic disease.
As Braault explained, hospitals provide some charitable care, but the costs associated with unpaid care are usually transferred to people with private insurance since it’s the only place where rates can be raised when faced with fixed-rate Medicare and Medicaid.
“So when we keep people out of the hospital, there is less cost to shift,” he said, emphasizing that Grace Clinic does not compete with hospitals, but supports them by providing services that uninsured patients need but can not get elsewhere.
Reza Kalil, CEO of Providence, Southeast Washington, agreed: “The Grace Clinic plays a key role in our community’s healthcare safety net, providing care to underserved residents. It does so in a way that is very much in line with Kadlec and Providence’s vision of health for a better world”.
bridging the gap
Grace Clinic can accomplish its mission through the support of its donors and the efforts of 200 to 250 active volunteers from the local medical community—most of them still working—who serve in the clinic between once a week and once a month, depending on how much time they have to give.
“They really enjoy spending time in the clinic because they really enjoy doing what they love without the hassle of bills and everything else that goes into a traditional medical practice,” said Brault, one of the volunteers. “They can just focus on the patient and apply their skills in a comfortable, low-pressure environment and help people who wouldn’t necessarily be able to see them in their own practice.”
The value of the work over the past 20 years – if paid – would be more than $8 million and 215,000 hours, Braultt said.
The value of services provided during 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 in local hospitals to complete their education at the same time and also contribute to a charitable cause.
“In this community in particular, we have a real shortage of enough clinical people, doctors, nurses, and mental health counselors. We help feed the pipeline of medical professionals in the community. There are never days when someone isn’t in the clinic in the middle of training,” he said. Brault: “On most days there are multiple people.”
Bevan Briggs, academic director at the Washington State University School of Nursing, described the Grace Clinic as an essential partner of the Washington State University School of Nursing in the Tri-Cities.
“Students in our practicing nursing programs and pre-licensing nursing programs have clinical experiences there. In an environment where clinical placement of students is very challenging and very important, they provide an excellent learning environment.”
Dr. Cindy Prezler, Director of Consulting at Grace Clinic, said that since 2010, 22 consulting interns have gone on to join local businesses or open their own practices locally.
“Not only does this expand mental health treatment capacity in the three cities, but it also boosts the business economy in our community,” she said.
Jackson, who recently received the Athens Leadership Award from the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the clinic is an excellent example of the relationship between the for-profit and non-profit sectors.
Grace Clinic was launched in June 2002 in the basement of the First United Methodist Church in Pasco by Drs. Carol Endo and Sheryl Snyder, local doctors who will see patients in need for free for four hours every Saturday.
Ten years later, the clinic expanded to its current location in the former Benton Franklin Health District building, 800 W Canal Drive in Kennewick. He started working four days a week and provides diabetes care, mental health, and dental services.
Five years later, in 2017, Grace Clinic opened five days a week and third-year residents were completing their education at Kadlec Regional Medical Center and Trios Health Hospitals began serving courses there.
Brault said the dental program will be expanded in the new year. “We mostly do urgent dental work – extractions and abscesses. After the first of the year, we will be able to do more routine dentistry.”
He said the Grace Clinic is also working on a mental health expansion that will happen next year.
“To grow and expand what we do, we have to grow our support base, both in terms of funding and volunteers. In a for-profit operation, you scale here and generate more revenue, but for us, when we scale, it creates more cost,” Braault said.
He said the clinic is mostly funded by individuals, service clubs and the wider community.
Basin Pacific Insurance and Benefits is one such community donor.
“The Grace Clinic is a testament to how we should all serve those in need in our community. … We have supported Grace Clinic both in person and through our work because Grace Clinic epitomizes what true community service should be like. If you have never visited Grace Clinic before You owe it to yourself and others to do it,” said Brad Toner, managing partner at Basin Pacific.
Grace Clinic: 800 W Canal Drive, Kennewick; 509-735-2300; gracecliniconline.org; Facebook, Instagram