Grace Clinic serves those with nowhere else to turn

By the Herald editorial staff

While the rest of the nation debates health care reform, Grace Clinic isn't waiting on the outcome.

The Tri-City nonprofit is a shining example of what can be done right now to help uninsured people in need of medical care.

For the past eight years, the clinic has offered free care to Mid-Columbians without health insurance. With a Christian-based mission to heal the afflicted, Grace Clinic has logged more than 20,000 patient visits.

During that time, the clinic also evolved from a small space in a Pasco church to a home of its own in Kennewick.

Now, it's ready to take the next leap.

Run solely by volunteers since its inception, the clinic is hiring a full-time physician. It means expanded hours to meet the growing demand and more consistent service for patients.

Grace Clinic still will depend on its vast network of volunteer physicians, specialists and nurses to supplement the operation, which provides a host of basic health care services, prescription assistance and dental care. It also has a referral network to find care for patients needing to see specialists.

What many folks don't know is that Grace Clinic is the second-largest free health care clinic in the state. We have an organization in our own backyard that's figured out how to care for a segment of our population that often goes without care.

People without insurance will defer seeing a doctor because of the cost, even when they know something is wrong. Sometimes, the problem can be cured or reversed if caught in time. But if they wait too long to seek care, the condition could have dire consequences. An ounce of prevention, Benjamin Franklin said, is worth a pound of cure. And that still holds true today.

The organizers of Grace Clinic have tapped into a real need and continue to find ways to serve those in distress and make lives better. One example: The clinic now offers a food pantry for patients who need assistance in feeding their families.

In some ways, Grace Clinic has become a victim of its own success, having to turn away 900 people last year. While some of those folks didn't meet the income requirements, at other times the clinic was just too busy to take on more patients.

But never daunted, the organizers have found a way to hire a physician -- a longtime volunteer who is intimately familiar with the operation -- and expand hours to serve even more patients. If all goes well, Grace Clinic may hire a second doctor and a nurse and be open most days of the week by year's end.

Of course all these good works take money and the volunteers involved need financial support and in-kind medical services. Grace Clinic has been helped out greatly by the generosity of Tri-City hospitals as well as laboratory service from Tri-Cities Laboratory. It does, after all, take a village to solve a problem and there is a role for everyone in helping our community's health.

The clinic asked its patients where they would go for care if it did not exist. Fifty-two percent said they wouldn't go anywhere. Medical bills are daunting; we can't blame folks with no insurance for being wary.

Others would head to emergency rooms for health problems that are treated cheaper and better with an office visit to Grace Clinic.

The clinic's patients don't have to pay a dime for health care, though they're encouraged to contribute if they can.

Fundraisers are held a couple of times a year and donations are always welcome.

For thousands of Mid-Columbians without health insurance, Grace Clinic offers a solution to a problem faced across our country.

Our community is lucky to have Grace Clinic, and it deserves our support.