It is truly amazing what can be accomplished by a committed group of volunteers in a caring community.
Ten years ago, a group of volunteers who were interested in helping to provide health care to the uninsured in our community, opened Grace Clinic and began seeing patients for four hours each Saturday.
Since then, the clinic has logged more than 35,000 patient visits, providing medical, dental, counseling and pharmacy services to individuals in our community who do not have the access to health care that most of us enjoy. Six months before opening, two physicians who had just returned from a medical mission trip were having coffee and talking about their experience. They asked the questions "What if?"
"What if we could do something like we did on our trip, here in the Tri Cities?" They began praying and working on that idea. Soon others joined them in the effort, and In June 2002, Grace Clinic opened, initially seeing patients for four hours each Saturday.
For the first four years, the clinic worked out of the basement of the First Methodist Church in downtown Pasco. A couple of makeshift exam rooms had to be set up and taken down each Saturday as the Church used those spaces for other purposes the rest of the week.
In the first full year of operations, the Clinic provided 1,500 patient visits. In other words, 1,500 times, someone was able to walk into the clinic and get care that they would not otherwise have access to.
It soon became apparent that Grace Clinic needed a home of its own if we were going to be able to continue to increase the number of people served and the scope of services provided.
The former Sea Galley restaurant in Kennewick was identified, and in September 2006, the clinic relocated into our current 7,000-square-foot facility. The following April, the expanded facility allowed us to begin offering dental services.
In 2007, we began surveying our patients, asking where they would go if the clinic wasn't an option. Since we began collecting this data, those in the largest group - 54 percent last year - report that they would not seek care without Grace Clinic.
About 550 times each month, someone walks through our door looking for health care. Having limited income and no insurance means the options available to them to meet their health care needs generally are limited to the emergency room.
Individuals like the single mother suffering from depression, or the young man who recently enlisted in the Army and had a serious dental abscess, or the young woman who told us she had been going to the ER each month because they would give her a vial of insulin.
In addition to providing health care services, we are able to be a tangible demonstration of God's love to those who walk through our door. As we celebrate the clinic's 10th anniversary, we pause to look back over the past 10 years and celebrate what has been accomplished.
We have been able to expand the scope of services provided and the number of people served. We thank God for the hundreds of volunteers who make this work possible, and for the generous community which has provided the funding necessary, but we recognize that there is still much to be done. While the number of people served has climbed each year, we still are forced to turn people away most days because of lack of capacity.
We enthusiastically look to the future and the opportunities that our planned move to the former Benton Franklin Health District building on Canal Drive in Kennewick will provide. It will give us more space and allow us to use the funds that currently go to rent toward providing care for more people in our community.
As long as we are forced to turn people away we will continue to ask the question "what if?" -- Mark Brault is president of Grace Clinic's board of directors.