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 clinic’s 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 it’s 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.
“It’s 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 it’s all free.
“There’s no cost whatsoever and we don’t collect any personal information,” Schlicher said.
“It’s 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. There’s no requirement for a pay stub and patients don’t have to give information about their employer.
“We’re 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.
“It’s really fulfilling to be able to work here and I think we’ve helped a lot of people. We have a lot of people who, if their medical conditions were controlled, they’d still be working –– and it’s pretty devastating to those people.
“We have people who have very simple conditions and some who have problems that haven’t 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 clinic’s 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 they’ve been in the area for 20 or 30 years. And a lot of them are still practicing. And they’re all here because they want to be here. Nobody’s paying them.”
Schlicher’s husband, Dr. Nathan Schlicher, also volunteers at the clinic. “He’s an ER doc and I’m in family practice so we sometimes have different perspectives on things, but we’re 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 it’s so dangerous.
“If they hit their head really hard, even if they don’t 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 they’ve gotten a hard hit to their head, they can get what’s 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 clinic’s free physicals for her son. “I think it’s a great service,” she said. “We just moved here. I’m a student and we haven’t established a doctor yet and we’re 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 they’re riding a bicycle or skateboard.
No appointment is necessary to be treated at the clinic. It’s 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.
“There’s no need for anyone to be running around for assistance when they can come here and get all the help they need,” Lopez said. “Don’t be bashful, just come in and they’ll help you. They’re friendly and they’re very, very experienced,” he said.
“We have a lot of homeless people out here who walk, and it’s 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 didn’t 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. It’s 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.