For those Benton and Franklin county residents forced to navigate their lives without health insurance, Grace Clinic provides a life ring.
The Kennewick-based organization is a quiet, yet powerful community asset that operates primarily on kindness and generosity.
It is a tremendous example of what can happen when an honorable idea is backed by enough people committed to helping those in need.
Grace Clinic is the only free clinic in the Tri-Cities that provides medical, dental and mental health services to the poor who live in the bicounty area and Burbank.
And it receives no government funding.
Instead, a pool of about 250 active volunteers — including receptionists, nurses, doctors, dentists and mental health counselors — offer their services to low-income patients who don’t have health insurance.
The latest estimate puts the number of uninsured in Benton and Franklin counties at 32,000.
That’s a lot of folks who likely would suffer with their ailments or seek more costly emergency room care if Grace Clinic didn’t exist.
Last week marked a milestone for the clinic, as officials celebrated its 15th anniversary. An estimated 62,000 patient visits have been seen since Grace Clinic got its start helping people once a week on Saturdays in the basement of a Pasco church.
Now it has its own 10,000-square-foot building on Canal Drive and is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and part of Saturdays.
But that schedule is expected to change at the end of the month, thanks to an impressive and cooperative move by officials at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland and Trios Health in Kennewick.
Both hospitals have worked out an arrangement that will allow their third-year medical residents to work shifts at Grace Clinic. This means the clinic’s doors soon will be open on Wednesdays as well.
Adding another day to the schedule surely will help patients, and it will give the medical students a learning experience beyond that of a hospital or private doctor’s office.
This is an exciting step forward for the clinic, and we applaud Kadlec and Trios officials for helping to make it happen.
Mark Brault, Grace Clinic’s volunteer CEO, said many of the people who come through the clinic’s doors are working jobs for minimal pay and no health benefits.
They don’t get a sick day to see a doctor, he said.
It is often a financial sacrifice just to take time off to seek medical attention. If it wasn’t a free visit, many of these low-income patients likely wouldn’t make the effort at all.
That kind of delay could lead to more serious health issues later on, and end up putting them in the hospital.
So the relief Grace Clinic provides in the Tri-City health care web is significant.
About 20 percent of its funding comes from United Way and the rest is donated privately. Kadlec offers some financial support, Brault said.
We know money is tight, but considering the benefit Grace Clinic provides to the community, we would like to see more health care organizations chip in to keep it going.
If Trios and Lourdes Health Network in Pasco could find a way to help out financially, that would be admirable.
As Senate Republicans negotiate changes to the Affordable Care Act behind closed doors in Washington, D.C. — causing uncertainty across the country — Grace Clinic offers hope to those wondering what the fallout may be.
Our community owes its volunteers a huge thank you for 15 years of unselfish service.
We hope you can continue your work for many more.