When Rebeca Arellano's daughter had a fever two years ago, she wasn't particularly concerned. An immigrant from Michoacán, Mexico...
When Rebeca Arellano’s daughter had a fever two years ago, she wasn’t particularly concerned.
An immigrant from Michoacán, Mexico, the 33-year-old Arellano didn’t speak much English and was struggling financially, but she had found a health clinic that spoke her language and helped her find ways to pay for care.
At other clinics, her husband had to take time off from work to fill out forms, and people at some she had been to couldn’t understand her, Arellano said through a Spanish interpreter. But at the Bothell-Kenmore Community Health Center, things like paperwork, making appointments and paying for care were easier, and that helped put her mind at ease.
“When [her three daughters] are sick, I am sure that they will be seen immediately,” Arellano said. And when the family is at the health clinic, they even feel just a little bit like they are back in Mexico, her 36-year-old sister Haydee Sanchez said.
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Arellano and Sanchez, who live in Everett and Bothell, are among the growing immigrant population in the region. Community Health Centers of King County, the nonprofit group of medical and dental clinics where Arellano takes her daughters, is racing to keep up with the increased demand for care.
“We’re busting at the seams. The demand is really outstretching capacity,” said spokeswoman Diana Olsen.
The Community Health Centers have six medical centers and four dental centers in King County.
Community Health Centers of King County
The nonprofit group has six health centers and four dental centers in the county.
Auburn Community Health Center: 126 Auburn Ave., Suite 300. 253-735-0166. Dental center: 126 Auburn Ave., Suite 100. 253-804-8713
Bothell-Kenmore Community Health Center: 6016 N.E. Bothell Way, Suite G, Kenmore. 425-486-0658
Eastside Community Health Center: 16315 N.E. 87th St., Suite B6, Redmond. 425-882-1697. Dental center: 16345 N.E. 87th St., Suite C2, Redmond. 425-883-8000
Federal Way Community Health Center: 33431 13th Place S. 253-874-7634. Dental center: 33431 13th Place S. 253-874-7646
Kent Community Health Center: 403 E. Meeker St., Suite 200. 253-852-2866. Dental center: 403 E. Meeker St., Suite 100. 253-796-4071
Renton Community Health Center: 200 S. Second St. 425-226-5536
Source: Community Health Centers of King County
The increase in immigrant populations and overall demand for care at the centers has forced the nonprofit to expand. The Eastside center is remodeling, and the Bothell-Kenmore center — now about 5,000 square feet — is constructing a 25,000-square-foot building set to open in 2007.
The clinics take nearly all forms of insurance, and those with no coverage are put on a sliding pay scale determined by the size of the family and their income. More than one-fourth of patients primarily speak a language other than English.
Martha Villicana, 33, said she was recently diagnosed with diabetes. Unable to afford coverage at a normal medical-care provider, Villicana went to the Bothell-Kenmore clinic and appreciated the service she received.
“Right now, financially, we’re not doing very good,” said Villicana, who lives in Kirkland. “I think that [clinic staff] really care.”
Villicana’s first visit to the clinic was Friday, and the next morning she received a call from the medical assistant, Erika Tejada, checking to see if Villicana was OK and to talk about her care.
Tejada, like many who work at the Bothell-Kenmore clinic, speaks Spanish. During Villicana’s visit, the two spoke in Spanish about seeing a nutritionist, taking the correct medicine and not worrying about getting a shot.
In 1997, about 10 percent of those who visited the Bothell-Kenmore clinic were Latino; that has jumped to about 30 percent, Olsen said. The numbers are even higher at the Eastside clinic in Redmond, where 50 to 60 percent of the patients are Spanish-speaking, Olsen said.
Such centers often are the only options for poor Latino immigrants, said Gabriela Lemus, director of policy and legislation at the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington, D.C.
“For the most part, they become reliant on these community-service organizations,” Lemus said. “I think they can be quite resourceful. … They are oftentimes more culturally competent than going to a hospital and dealing with the doctors there. They know how to work with the community.”
There is staff on hand at each clinic to help families find insurance coverage, said Carrie King, manager of the Bothell-Kenmore center, which has a full-time Spanish interpreter to help patients deal with documents and doctors.
When necessary, the clinic provides interpreters for other languages, King said. She remembers needing interpreters who spoke Punjabi, Vietnamese and Russian, among others.
The nonprofit group said it is also planning to build a center in SeaTac, where it expects to serve Eastern European and East African immigrants in addition to its usual demographic.
The usual demographic is best described as working poor, Olsen said.
According to Community Health Centers’ annual report, 49 percent of the patients were uninsured and 61 percent were below the federal poverty level. The nonprofit operates on about a $22 million annual budget, much of which comes from federal, state and local governments, and had more than 142,000 patient visits last year.
“Most of the people we see do have jobs,” she said. “A lot of them are working two or three jobs, but they still can’t afford insurance.”
Ari Bloomekatz: 206-464-2540 or firstname.lastname@example.org