Grace Clinic plans move, expanded services

KENNEWICK -- Grace Clinic could soon be moving and expanding its health care offerings for low-income and uninsured Tri-Citians.

The Benton Franklin Health Board on Wednesday in a 5-1 vote gave preliminary approval to a $1-per-year lease for the clinic in the health district's old building on Canal Street in Kennewick.

Board member Leo Bowman voted no, expressing concerns about the looming possibility of budget cuts passed down from the state.

In particular, Bowman was hesitant about taking the building off the real estate market and leasing it for a nominal fee when two possible buyers have expressed interest in the building.

But his hesitations have nothing to do with Grace Clinic or its mission, he added.

"There is the old saying about a bird in the hand versus two in the bush," Bowman said. "We don't know what tomorrow's budget will bring. I think it is premature for us to march ahead with so many unknowns."

Health board member Brad Peck said he thinks the health district and community would benefit from Grace Clinic being able to expand its services.

Mark Brault, the clinic's board president, said Grace Clinic was started nine years ago to meet an unfulfilled need for a free clinic for low-income and uninsured residents of Benton and Franklin counties and Burbank.

The clinic is run almost entirely by volunteers, and has had 29,000 patient visits since it opened.

Anyone with an income below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines can get free care at the clinic, but 79 percent of the patients are below 150 percent of poverty guidelines, he said.

The poverty line for a family of four in 2011 is $22,350 a year, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, making the 200 percent threshold $44,700 a year for a family of four.

In addition to medical and dental services, the clinic offers mental health counseling and a small food pantry.

Brault said in a 2007 patient survey, 56 percent of the clinic's patients said they wouldn't seek medical care at all if Grace Clinic did not exist.

"This is a public health issue," he said.

Taking over the Canal Street building would give Grace Clinic an extra 3,000 square feet compared to its current site on Clearwater Avenue, and that space could be used to increase its dental offerings and add vision care services as well as fitness and health and wellness programs, Brault said.

The move also would save the clinic about $68,000 per year in rent that could be used to broaden patient services.

The clinic would pay for improvements to the building and would explore possibilities to work with the Benton Franklin Health District to provide programs that help meet the district's mission, such as ones dealing with immunization or prevention of sexually transmitted infections.

The vote included a provision that a health board subcommittee will meet with Grace Clinic representatives to iron out details of the lease, which remains subject to final approval by the board within 45 days.