The weekly Key Free Clinic began offering vision services to walk-in patients after a dedication ceremony Saturday, April 8, in its offices next to the library in Key Center.
The free clinic has offered non-emergency medical and dental treatment to anyone regardless of ability to pay for the last three years in its current location. Patients requiring ongoing medical care receive referrals to volunteer providers in the surrounding area. Now patients can also be treated for basic eye problems.
“The mission will be to get eye services to people who can’t get them otherwise due to cost, insurance or geography,” said Anne Nesbit, the clinic’s executive director. “We can’t treat glaucoma and things like that, but we can refer out to places that can.”
“This is a great step forward,” said Chuck West, chair of the clinic’s board of directors. “We first met with Doc Roes and Doc Patterson in 2013 to talk about opening a free clinic, and it’s just kept going.”
Adding the vision clinic started with a suggestion from Gig Harbor optometrist and KP resident, Dr. Oliver Kuhn-Wilken.
“I just happened to have this tiny idea and said it aloud to a few people and it just took off,” he said.
“I live not far up the road and I heard about the free clinic and came down to talk to Anne about adding eye services,” Kuhn-Wilken said. “She and the board were so excited about it, they just took it and ran.”
Following those first conversations with Nesbit and clinic board members in July 2016, Kuhn-Wilken reached out to the local medical community.
“When I sent out the email to the Pierce County Optometric Society, of all the people to respond, Ed Worthen was absolutely the first and most enthusiastic,” Kuhn-Wilken said. “And then, a couple weeks later, Ed said ‘I know some guys that have some equipment.’ That was VOSH; they loaned us an extraordinary amount of high quality equipment that allowed us to provide full eye services.”
“Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH), is a national organization that provides basic eye services to people in need who wouldn’t ordinarily get them, both locally and worldwide,” said Debby McDonald, president of the VOSH northwest chapter, who also attended the clinic opening. “Doctor Worthen is the optometrist I worked with for 27 years and he had volunteered for VOSH since way before I knew him,” she said. “He got me involved with VOSH, volunteering and doing mission trips. We do a lot of local clinics also. He got this started.”
“This clinic literally would not have happened without Ed,” Kuhn-Wilken said.
Edward Worthen, O.D., of Gig Harbor Vision Source, died unexpectedly Dec. 4, 2016, of a heart attack. He was 62 years old and had been an optometrist since 1979. His wife, Connie Worthen, cut the ribbon at the ceremony, formally opening the vision clinic.
“Ed had been connected with VOSH in the Seattle area for 30 years and has done missions with them all over the world, and that group is all about helping underprivileged people,” Connie said. “We were on a mission trip in Mexico in November and he chatted it up with all these VOSH people, and when Ed passed away in December the VOSH group committed themselves to remember him by bringing this clinic to fruition.”
The vision clinic will be open the second Saturday of every month with hours to be determined based on demand.
Heather Hesske, the board secretary, said the clinic sees about 250 patients a year on an annual budget of approximately $30,000. “Our funding comes from grants, an annual fundraiser and individual donations,” she said. “People donate to us through PayPal at our website.” The clinic also receives substantial assistance from Cost Less Pharmacy in Lake Kathryn Village.
For more information, call 253-313-3791 or go to http://www.keyfreeclinic.org .