Free Clinic of Southwest Washington turns 30

Largest clinic of its kind in Washington offers 6,000 patient visits per year

Free Clinic
Courtesy of the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington

The Free Clinic of Southwest Washington is the largest walk-in, urgent care free clinic in the state of Washington. In 2020, it’s celebrating 30 years in Vancouver.

Free Clinic
Courtesy of the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington

In 1988, it was discovered that 14,000 local residents did not have health insurance or the income to afford health care. After two years of planning, in May 1990, the Community Health Clinic opened at 2000 Fort Vancouver Way with one paid administrator. Over the years, CHC slowly grew, and in 1996, it became a 501(c)3 charitable organization. While the Community Health Center was planned as a temporary measure until a national health plan materialized, it became clear at this time, those changes were not coming, and CHC was needed as a permanent fixture. By 1997, a pharmacy had opened inside the clinic.

1999 was a pivotal year for the organization. CHC moved to the Memorial Health Center and, in a newly formed partnership with the Vancouver School District, campaigned to raise $1 million for a new home, equipment and operating costs for a year. Late that year, CHC changed its name to Free Clinic of Southwest Washington.

In March 2001, FCSW achieved its $1 million goal and in December, it moved into the new east wing of the Jim Parsley Center, where it remains today, rent free. In 2005, an anonymous donor contributed $250,000 for the purchase of a 31-foot dental van.

In 2007, Project Access Clark County, a groundbreaking program to help uninsured people get complex, urgent and expensive medical procedures through donated specialty care, started as a pilot program, and became fully operational in 2008.

Barbe West came on as executive director in 2009 and stayed in the role until 2018 when she left to become executive director for Southwest Washington Accountable Community of Health in Vancouver. Ann Wheelock was appointed interim executive director in September 2018 and executive director in December 2018.

Along the way, the FCSW, which does not accept state or federal funding, has added programs to meet the needs of the dominant patient groups, which have changed throughout the years. For much of the Free Clinic’s history, services were dominated by children’s health from dentistry to immunizations to free after-school sports physicals.

Today, with Medicaid covering most otherwise uninsured children in the state of Washington, the Free Clinic sees fewer and fewer youth, and its services are mainly focused on “the working poor, people in their mid-40s, the parents of those children,” said Wheelock. The clinic sees a high concentration of undocumented immigrants, whose children are covered by the state.

Free Clinic
Courtesy of the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington

Patients also have more chronic conditions such as diabetes that need to be monitored over time and managed with expensive medications. The Free Clinic was spending $400 per week to provide insulin to diabetic patients, until recently when Medical Program Manager Tina Auerbach began soliciting in-kind donations from pharmaceutical companies and received upwards of $90,000 in new-generation, brand name insulin. Six months ago, the clinic also started a Diabetes Self-Management Program, a patient support group for which the clinic is now seeking a full-time bilingual community health worker to oversee. This group is proving wildly successful by all metrics, including lessening the patients’ need for insulin and lowering A1C numbers across the board.

Free Clinic of Southwest Washington provides more than 6,000 patient visits every year, and no one is charged a fee, though all are asked if they would like to donate. Wheelock estimates that 80% of patients give something, and 3% of overall income last year, or $45,000, came from patients or former patients.

The small clinic, which has seven exam rooms, a pharmacy, administrative offices, a small lab and a records room, was built pre-HPPA (Health Protection and Promotion Act) and privacy is an issue, said Wheelock. The clinic has no plans to move at this time, but is looking at ways to expand, such as putting a portable building on the patio.

And though the lobby isn’t crushed with people today, Wheelock said that in 2013, at the height of the recession, there were lines of 50 people out the door.

“We have to keep us going,” she said. “We are a safety net for the people.”

Sam Beall Breakfast

Thursday, April 23, 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Warehouse 23, 100 Columbia St. #102, in Vancouver

Named in memory after one of Free Clinic’s founders, Vancouver physician Dr. Sam Beall, this annual breakfast provides the opportunity to support the Free Clinic while enjoying a delicious buffet breakfast, the chance to win great raffle prizes, learn more about the Free Clinic and visit with members of the health care and business communities.

All proceeds go to help the Free Clinic provide free, compassionate, quality health care for the uninsured and underinsured in Clark County.

Tickets are $35. Visit freeclinics.org to purchase.

A Year of Celebration Free Clinic of Southwest Washington 30th Anniversary Events

January 2020
Ribbon Cutting with the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce
Tuesday, Jan. 7, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Free Clinic. The official ribbon cutting will occur at noon. Tours of the clinic, as well as food/beverages will be provided.

March 2020
Open House Highlighting the Medical Clinic
Thursday, March 26, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Free Clinic
Short program, tours of the clinic and food/beverages will be provided.

April 2020
Sam Beall Breakfast
Thursday, April 23, 2020, 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., Warehouse 23
Annual fundraising breakfast named in memory of one of the Free Clinic’s founders, Dr. Sam Beall, a Vancouver physician. Tickets are $35 per person and can be purchased online at freeclinics.org

May 2020
Volunteer Recognition Event
Friday, May 1, 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., Free Clinic
Short program, volunteer awards, tours of the clinic, as well as food/beverages will be provided

September 2020
Open House Highlighting the Dental/Vision Clinic
Thursday, September 10, 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Free Clinic
Short program, tours of the clinic, as well as food/beverages will be provided

December 2020
Holiday Ball-Official Close of the Anniversary Year
Saturday, Dec. 5, 5:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., Heathman Lodge
Biggest fundraiser of the year for the Free Clinic.

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