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In the chilly, pre-dawn hours, hundreds of people are lined up in a giant, heated tent next to Key Arena at Seattle Center. Some, with blankets and sleeping bags, have been here since midnight the night before, waiting for a ticket to get in.

They aren’t here for a rock concert or sporting event. They’re waiting for the 6:30 a.m. opening of the annual Seattle/King County Clinic, where they will receive physical exams, health screenings, vaccinations, and, for some, the first dental care of their lives. The wait to enter could be up to four hours, but everyone stays.

The Seattle/King County Clinic, held this year in late September, brings together healthcare organizations, civic agencies, non-profits, private businesses and volunteers to provide free medical, dental and vision care to the underserved and vulnerable. UW Medicine is both a partner and a provider of clinical volunteers, equipment and medications.

While some patients are homeless, many are not. “When we started five years ago, outside observers thought the majority of the population would be homeless,” says Dr. Angelisa Paladin, a UW Medicine radiologist and one of the clinic’s founders. “Instead, many patients have housing and full- or part-time jobs, but don’t have money for healthcare.” She explains that some actually have insurance, but their coverage falls far short of what they need or could pay for.

Angelisa Paladin

Paladin serves as one of the clinic’s two medical directors overseeing all medical operations. As a radiologist, she also helps supervise on-site imaging, including mammography (in conjunction with SCCA), ultrasound and X-ray.

Services at the clinic run the full gamut, including physical exams, women’s health exams, lab services, acupuncture, chiropractic, wound and foot care, behavioral health, physical therapy, naturopathy, massage therapy, HIV and hepatitis screening and counseling, eye care and dental care, among many others.

A variety of social services and health insurance counselors also play a key role. “The goal is to get people signed up and qualified for some kind of coverage if we can, and to connect them with services in the community that can help them,” says Paladin.

Key Arena seems tailor-made to house the clinic. Luxury suites become x-ray reading rooms, private exam rooms for women’s health, stations for foot care. Bars and dining areas become places to rest and bring down blood pressure, pick out new glasses or get opioid counseling. The floor of the stadium holds a sea of more than 100 dental chairs, where patients have dental extractions, cleanings and cavities filled. Another large suite high above the floor serves as command central, with staff on walkie-talkies connected to providers throughout the facility.

Approximately 4000 people are seen over the four days of the clinic, many receiving multiple services. They speak more than 50 primary languages, and are helped by roaming interpreters wearing red vests marked with the languages they speak.

“We want people to come into an environment that makes them feel respected and supported,” says Paladin. “This is our community, taking care of our community. I think that’s what makes this clinic so special. It’s an incredible act of kindness from an entire community to let others know that we care about them.”

Dr. Rick Arnold, a UW Medicine internal medicine doctor and UW School of Medicine faculty member and mentor, is in his third year volunteering for the Seattle/King County Clinic. He serves as the on-site medical director for primary care.

“There’s an incredible camaraderie among the folks who work at the clinic,” says Arnold of the thousands of volunteers, many who work 12-hour shifts or longer. “People volunteer because they’re passionate about the need to take care of the most needy in society. That’s my personal reason for doing it, and it’s the driving force for the volunteers there.”

Dr. Rick Arnold

Arnold says that many UW Medicine staff and providers volunteer each year, including UW School of Medicine students and residents. “It’s a great opportunity for the students and residents to interact with patients,” he says. Arnold provides on-site consultation and support for the other providers and medical volunteers. He also sees lab test results and helps connect patients with follow-up care and treatment wherever possible.

“I see people who come for blood pressure or sugar checks or to get advice on what to do next, and here they are with a wad of cotton in their mouth because they’ve just had a dental extraction,” he observes. “In spite of the fact they’ve just gone through a procedure, they are so incredibly grateful that someone cares enough to provide these services for free. They may have been waiting for months in agony to get some help and they are finally able to get this addressed.”

Arnold says some patients return for several days in a row to get the services they need.

“People who come to this clinic are falling through the cracks in our broken healthcare system,” says Arnold. “As a major force in providing healthcare to people in this region, UW Medicine needs to be involved, or we’re not even coming close to fulfilling our mission.”

View a gallery of images from this year’s clinic.

For detailed information about the Seattle/King County Clinic, visit



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