On Sunday, Seattle faith-based group Urban Impact will launch a Rainier Valley clinic to provide free or low-cost medical care for children.

Share story

In a city so focused on global health, the health of local folks can sometimes seem to get short shrift. Even many churches now do the bulk of their work abroad, raising money for bed nets in Africa or supporting clinics in Central America.

While those efforts are worthy, there’s no reason that same spirit of service shouldn’t extend to improving health here at home, says Dave Kwok.

On Sunday, a faith-based group in Seattle’s Rainier Valley will take a step in that direction by launching a clinic to provide free or low-cost medical care for children.

“The heart of what we’re trying to do is engage the church in health care,” said Kwok, manager of the Kids’ Clinic at Rainier Health & Fitness.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Churches, of course, have a long history of providing medical care — from the monasteries of the Middle Ages to the religious orders that founded hospitals around the world. But that emphasis has shifted somewhat in recent years, Kwok said. “Many churches have not seen the health of the communities around them as part and parcel of their mission.”

The Kids’ Clinic is supported by Urban Impact, a group that includes Emerald City Bible Fellowship, Rainier Avenue Church and other congregations.

Rainier Health & Fitness, opened in 2005, was Urban Impact’s initial foray into community health. The gym offers an affordable place to exercise that’s also welcoming to the neighborhood’s diverse populations. The Kids’ Clinic occupies a corner room, remodeled with volunteer labor and donated equipment.

There’s an extreme shortage of pediatricians in the Rainier Valley, an area that is home to more than 12,000 children, said Dr. Christopher Jones. One of two volunteer pediatricians who staff the clinic, Jones — like everyone else involved in the project — works a full-time job as well.

Washington state’s health programs for children barely escaped major budget cuts this year. Still, many kids may not get the level of care they need, said Jim Stevenson, spokesman for the Department of Social and Health Services.

“There’s always the question of access,” he said. “In some places it’s harder to find providers.”

Many parents don’t know their children qualify for care. Undocumented parents may be reluctant to sign up.

Health care can be particularly challenging in the Rainier Valley, where the proportion of people who are uninsured is the highest in King County. Rates of obesity and asthma are high. Life expectancy is 10 years less than in nearby Mercer Island, said Kwok, the clinic manager.

“What these kids need is more than just a doctor visit,” Jones said.

The Kids’ Clinic will take a holistic approach. Psychologist Thomas Brasted will offer short sessions to help children and parents change habits that may contribute to health problems. Doctors will discuss a child’s development and growth, not just illness. The long-term goal is to provide full-service primary care for both adults and children, Jones said.

But initially, the clinic’s hours will be limited to Saturday mornings, from 9:30 to 11:30. The focus will be on urgent care: kids with fevers, ear aches or vomiting that can’t wait for a regular doctor’s appointment.

The clinic requests a donation of $10 per visit, but payment is not required. Neither is insurance.

Sunday’s grand opening celebration, at Emerald City Bible Fellowship, will mark the start of a fundraising effort to finance the clinic’s expansion. The group is also looking for volunteers, particularly from local congregations.

“Health care is something tangible,” Kwok said, “where the church can have a real impact in the community.”

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or sdoughton@seattletimes.com

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.