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Roving, Free Health Clinic Sets Up Shop At KeyArena For Four-Day Stay

Monica Spain
Reina Rosales has her cavity filled by Dr. Phillips Trautman.

Even with the Affordable Care Act, adults in Washington are not getting the medical care they need often because they cannot afford deductibles or get into a Medicaid provider. Others go without eyeglasses and live with toothache because they don’t have coverage at all. This week, Seattle has a temporary clinic in an unlikely place to help solve some of those problems.

For four days, the floor of Seattle’s KeyArena is plumbed like a dental office. The luxury suites are crammed with high-tech diagnostic equipment, X-ray and ultrasound machines. There’s a 3-D printer cranking out new crowns for aching teeth, and an optical lab grinding lenses to fit brand new frames. 

There are hundreds of volunteer health workers present to make it happen. And there’s one man who got the idea when he was a cowboy — a “vaquero” — in the Upper Amazon in the 1950s.

Credit Monica Spain
Stan Brock

“I had a very serious accident shortly after I arrived there with a wild horse, and one of the other vaqueros there said, ‘Well the nearest doctor is 26 days on foot,’” said Stan Brock, founder of Remote Area Medical, a roving, free health clinic. 

Brock ditched the idea of hiking, injured, through the rainforest and survived. Brock had visions of parachuting doctors into remote locales, but found there was a big need here, especially for vision and dental care. And that’s exactly what he sees today when he asks for a show of hands at KeyArena.

“And I said, ‘How many people are here to see the medical doctors?’ of which we’ve got a large number in all kinds of specialties. And I think only three hands went up out of the 600,” he said. “The truth of the matter is, is that they all really needed to see the medical doctor, but they were so preoccupied with the pain from problems with their teeth.”

Patient Reina Rosales came to have her cavity filled. She was in line by midnight. She hadn't seen a dentist in three years.

“Yeah, a long time, but now I’m so happy for that [free care],” she said.

Rosales’ problem is solved, but for others, say someone who comes for a new pair of glasses, this might only be the beginning.

“If we find that they’ve got glaucoma, those are the people that we have to try and find a way to get the follow up care done for them,” Brock said.

The clinic runs through Sunday with a goal of reaching 4,000 people.