Carley Craig goes through the eye exam portion of her sports physical during a recent visit to the Key Free Clinic, in Key Center. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

For the past two years, Key Peninsula residents have been able to get free medical attention twice a week at the Key Free Clinic next door to the Key Center Library.

According to Jessica Schlicher, one of the clinics doctors and a board member, the clinic was started in 2012 by a group of residents that included doctors Bill Roes, Jim Patterson, Susan Bouterse and others.

“We offer full spectrum walk-in primary care,” Schlicher said. “We do sports physicals and we try to handle anything that comes in. If someone has an emergency like a heart attack or stroke and needs to be hospitalized, we usually send them to St. Anthony Hospital because its closest.”

Typically, clinic physicians see and treat conditions such as emphysema ands asthma, and people with weight loss who might have some underlying condition such as undetected cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes and back pain.

“Its really the full spectrum of primary care,” Schlicher said. “The clinic treats patients of all ages, but mostly adults, since most children are covered by Medicaid.”

And its all free.

“Theres no cost whatsoever and we dont collect any personal information,” Schlicher said.

“Its all confidential,” said Maureen Barta, a registered nurse who volunteers at the clinic. “We don’t care what their history is or what their background is. Theres no requirement for a pay stub and patients dont have to give information about their employer.

“Were here for people for whatever issue they have. We can help them get whatever they need,” Barta said.

That includes help getting insurance, help getting special tests, X-rays or any other resources patients need, she added.

Doctors want to be in a position of helping the people who really need it, Schlicher said.

“Its really fulfilling to be able to work here and I think weve helped a lot of people. We have a lot of people who, if their medical conditions were controlled, theyd still be working –– and its pretty devastating to those people.

“We have people who have very simple conditions and some who have problems that havent been treated for years and years. A lot of that is because many people out here are pretty independent and pretty self-sufficient and I really admire that,” she said.

Like Schlicher and Barta, all the clinics doctors and nurses are volunteers.

“We have an amazing group of doctors here and they all donate their time,” Barta said. “We have some of the best doctors in Gig Harbor. Some of them are retired but theyve been in the area for 20 or 30 years. And a lot of them are still practicing. And theyre all here because they want to be here. Nobodys paying them.”

Schlichers husband, Dr. Nathan Schlicher, also volunteers at the clinic. “Hes an ER doc and Im in family practice so we sometimes have different perspectives on things, but were a good team,” Jessica Schlicher said.

This past summer the clinic had an outreach program of free sports physicals for kids who want to play sports.

“Sports physicals are really easy for us to do,” Schlicher said. “We look for inherited heart problems that might not have been detected, that might put young people at risk for sudden death.”

That was the reason that sports physicals were required in the first place, she said.

Another focus of the sports physicals outreach was concussions.

Key Free Clinic physicians discuss what a concussion is and why its so dangerous.

“If they hit their head really hard, even if they dont pass out, they might have had a concussion,” Schlicher explained.

“They really need to be out of sports for seven days and be completely symptom-free before they go back. If they go right back into play after theyve gotten a hard hit to their head, they can get whats called ‘second hit syndrome’ which can cause death or even irreversible brain damage in young people,” she said in-between patients.

Nicole Brook, a new arrival to the Peninsula, took advantage of the clinics free physicals for her son. “I think its a great service,” she said. “We just moved here. Im a student and we havent established a doctor yet and were waiting on health insurance and this was just right for us so our son can play sports.”

The clinic staff also emphasizes basic safety issues to their young patients –– things like the importance of wearing a seatbelt, or a helmet when theyre riding a bicycle or skateboard.

No appointment is necessary to be treated at the clinic. Its all done on a first-come-first-seen basis, Barta said.

To Edwin Lopez, a two-time clinic user, the free clinic is a wonderful thing.

“Theres no need for anyone to be running around for assistance when they can come here and get all the help they need,” Lopez said. “Dont be bashful, just come in and theyll help you. Theyre friendly and theyre very, very experienced,” he said.

“We have a lot of homeless people out here who walk, and its a wonderful thing that they can come in here and get their medicine or whatever they need twice a month,” Schlicher said.

All are welcome, Schlicher emphasized. “I like to remind people that when I was in medical school I didnt have coverage and I went to clinics just like this.”

During November and December, the Key Free Clinic is open the second and third Thursdays (usually second and fourth Thursdays) of each month from 5:30-8 p.m. Its located in the Key Professional Building next door to the Key Center Library and fire station.

 

For information, call (253) 313-5539 or (253) 509-8881.

 
The Key Free Clinic is now offering nutritional and lifestyle coaching by nurse practitioner Regina Puratich. According to Dr. Jessica Schlicher, any community member can choose a series of four one-one-one classes to set and meet lifestyle goals. The coaching is done during regular clinic hours. “This could be around illness prevention, nutrition, exercise, weight-loss or other goals that the patient may have,” Schlicher said. “There is no income requirement or guidelines and is open to all citizens.”
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