Dr. Julie Stroud was a third-year resident at Swedish First Hill in 2005 when she considered the many unanswered medical needs of the community’s uninsured and underinsured and decided to act.
So on March 31, 2007, backed by like-minded volunteers and doctors and nurses, and with public and private sources funding the effort, Stroud opened the Christ Community Free Clinic in a former dental office at 1 A Street Northwest just west of Auburn City Hall.
And got very busy, very fast.
Sometimes, the lines of people waiting to see a doctor snaked onto the sidewalk outside and finally disappeared around the corner.
Several years later a dental clinic was added.
“We see lot of people of different categories. They may have insurance, but they can’t afford the deductibles and co-pays,” said Ginny Gannon, executive director since the clinic’s opening day. “We don’t turn anyone away, it’s completely free.”
For a time, given the advent of the Affordable Care Act, and with volunteers signing patients up for free insurance, the lines got shorter.
The numbers are up again, and the clinic is still doing its thing, helping the homeless, seniors, working poor and immigrants.
But now, volunteers who make things happen for the 10 to 15 people on average who show up for care every Tuesday night and on the two Saturdays a month, have an ask of their own.
See, those volunteer doctors and nurses and assistants have lives, those lives change, and their numbers have thinned as of late.
“We are very much needing volunteers, doctors, dentists, nurses, assistants, hygienists,” said Dental Coordinator Judy Bluhm, adding that she has seen too many clinics cancelled because a provider could not come.
“Most of the time we have providers for that night,” Gannon said. “We used to have two providers for each one, and we still do on a couple of them, but then we’re down to one a lot of times. We can’t always have two providers. If we have one doctor, we’re good, we can take about 10 people with one provider. But of course, we can take much more than that with two,” Gannon said.
Jeff Johnson, one of the founding board members, explained why the clinics matter so much.
“Because people can’t afford to buy health insurance, and people can’t afford to pay $125 at the urgent care clinic. When they don’t have insurance, that’s too high of a hurdle. And so. by having volunteers that are doctors, dentists, nurses, office helpers and customer service individuals come here and help the community, we’re helping all these people who have no access to insurance or to health care because they can’t afford the cost for an urgent care clinic,” Johnson said.
”What we really need is more volunteer providers, especially. We need more dentists, we need more doctors, we need more nurse practitioners, especially. Because the volume went down for a little bit but now it’s back up again. We see eight, 10, 15 people a night here when we we’re open, but we’re only open two days a week,” Johnson said.
“We’ve just been trying everything we can,” Gannon said. “Jeff and I have spoken to all the clubs around the city and everywhere else, and it’s surprising to still hear people say, ‘We didn’t even know you were there.’ So it’s getting the word out in every place we can.”
The faith-based, free clinic is not affiliated with any particular church, but is supported by the City of Auburn and by individuals and churches throughout Auburn and beyond.
Want to help? Call the Christ Community Free Clinic at 1-253-736-2634.