While going to the doctor is never fun, it is a relief to receive medical care when an injury or illness interrupts daily life.
However, for those without medical insurance a visit to a doctor can be costly.
It is to meet this need for medical care that the Key Free Clinic was opened January 20, 2013 by a group of Key Peninsula residents and local doctors.
Originally intended as a monthly clinic, the need for medical care was so great that the clinic expanded to operate twice monthly just two months after opening.
Now the clinic is open every Thursday since October 2015, when clinic volunteers Jessica Schlicher and her husband, former state Rep. Nathan Schlicher, completed a personnel inventory to make sure they had enough staff to cover a weekly clinic.
It’s helpful for people to know that every single Thursday we have a clinic which we’re really proud of.
Jessica Schlicher, medical director
“It’s helpful for people to know that every single Thursday we have a clinic which we’re really proud of,” Jessica Schlicher said.
The couple, who are both medical doctors, volunteer at the clinic, with Jessica, 36, serving as the medical director.
“If you volunteer, after a while they give you a fancy title,” she said with a laugh. “But it’s all volunteer (medical staff).”
The clinic, providing free medical services and referrals if needed, sees patients for a wide range of acute and chronic illnesses and injuries, in a non-emergency setting.
Treating all ages, Schlicher said staff members examine patients for ailments ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes, to students needing sports physicals.
“We’re very basic,” she said. “It’s a first-come, first-serve — no appointments.”
Working in the clinic provides doctors a way to practice medicine holistically, looking at the whole patient and providing recommendations for lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, in an effort to improve patient health, Schlicher said.
“It’s been nice to practice medicine in the way we all kind of want to,” she said. “It’s really nice to have the time and have the philosophy shared by everyone who works there to help people make healthy life decisions.”
Allowing the volunteer medical staff — especially physicians — to spend as much time as they feel necessary with patients helps to improve patient care and benefits the doctors, who are often forced to typically interact with patients on a limited time frame.
It’s been nice to practice medicine in the way we all kind of want to. It’s really nice to have the time and have the philosophy shared by everyone who works there to help people make healthy life decisions.
The clinic operates on an annual budget of $21,000, which covers rent, insurance and prescriptions, which are provided to them at cost from Purdy CostLess Pharmacy.
“We like it that way,” Schlicher said of the small budget. “It’s a pretty limited budget for what we’re able to accomplish.”
The clinic operates largely on grants and donations, with support from CHI Fransciscan Health, which provides free lab and radiography services through St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor.
Purdy CostLess Pharmacy, owned by Don and Kathy Zimmerman, has been a strong supporter of the clinic since the beginning by providing prescriptions at cost and are expanding to provide the clinic vaccines. And while the clinic does prescribe medications, it does not prescribe controlled substances.
This is a common policy for free clinics, who are unable to offer the follow up care for such prescriptions, along with concerns about drug abuse and dependence issues for such medications.
However, the clinic does offer patients options for pain relief, whether through a referral to a primary care provider to set up ongoing care or through a session with a volunteer massage therapist who is available every week at the clinic. Another service the clinic has been working to meet for its patients is the need for dental services, which are mired within the medical system and are often overlooked or unavailable.
State Rep. Michelle Caldier has operated three free dental weekends, beginning last November, after Schlicher contacted her about volunteering her services as a dentist.
We’re looking at what makes sense for a long term (dental care) model. We’re trying to look into possibly getting grants for the equipment...it’s been a great partnership.
State Rep. Michelle Caldier
“Unfortunately, you do get a lot of people who do need care and who qualify for Medicaid but cannot find a provider,” Caldier said about the bureaucracy surrounding adult Medicaid dental coverage. “For me and other dentists, it’s cheaper to donate (dental care) than it is to take Medicaid.”
This is one of the issues that spurred Caldier to run for office, to not only reinstate adult dental care but also to clear up the bureaucracy surrounding the process. While the process moves slowly at a state level, she is reaching patients through the clinic to try and provide as much care as possible.
“We’re looking at what makes sense for a long-term model,” Caldier said. “We’re trying to look into possibly getting grants for the equipment ... it’s been a great partnership.”
When possible, Schlicher encourages patients to enroll with medical insurance plans and establish a primary care physician.
“We try to encourage them, if they’re eligible for the Affordable Care Act, to apply for that,” she said, adding that medical insurance offers important protection against unforeseen medical issues and can help prevent large medical bills. But some patients refuse and prefer returning to the clinic, which is fine, Schlicher said.
We try very hard that the experience is a dignified one and feels very welcome and it’s not a charity experience. It’s like having a friend who’s a doctor that you can come talk to.
“We’re really there to serve anybody,” she said. “We’re open to everyone.”
Carla Cameron, the clinic manager since it opened in 2013, said that their patients are unlike anywhere else.
“It’s an awesome program and they’re awesome patients,” she said. “Most people come in and when they leave they’re happy.”
She mentioned that many patients have sent them thank-you notes following care, and that one man even composed a poem expressing his gratitude.
Schlicher agreed that the patients visiting the clinic are responsive to suggestions from the medical staff and thankful for the care they receive.
“We try very hard that the experience is a dignified one and feels very welcome; it’s not a charity experience,” she said. “It’s like having a friend who’s a doctor that you can come talk to.”
Key Free Clinic
The Key Free Clinic is open every Thursday from 5:30 to 8 p.m.
The clinic can be reached by phone at 253-313-3791 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is located at the Key Peninsula Health Center in Key Center, 8903 Key Peninsula Highway.