The Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic is a place anyone can support, an example of equitable health care that can be emulated by cities across the country.
I’ve always been drawn to Odessa Brown’s story. She was a pioneer and a relentless advocate for children’s health. I’ve lived in Seattle all my life, and as a reporter I’ve covered our vibrant, diverse community for more than four decades. Today, more than ever, I see a vulnerable population who needs our help. Like Brown, I want to be a strong, fearless voice for those who have yet to grow into their own — our community’s children — so they can live the healthiest lives possible.
Brown was a black woman from Chicago who was denied medical care because she couldn’t afford it. It was her life’s mission to make sure no family ever felt the same sense of disrespect and abandonment. When she moved to Seattle in 1963, she vowed to help make health care available to all, and she advocated for and worked to find funding for a community clinic. In 1970, a clinic was erected in Seattle’s Central District to bring to life her mission to provide care regardless of a family’s ability to pay. It was named in her honor: The Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic (OBCC).
Brown’s vision of health care for all, with dignity, endures today at OBCC, a community clinic of Seattle Children’s. Nearly 50 years later, OBCC is still a beacon of hope for families in need. Walk through the doors of the clinic, and you’ll see a place where everyone is welcome and that is called “home” by many families.
It’s no secret Seattle is changing and rapidly growing. People who once called the Central District home are being priced out. Of the population the clinic was intended to serve, about 75 percent have moved south toward more affordable housing. In these challenging times, the children served at the clinic, mostly low-income and ethnically diverse families, need us.
To meet families where they are, Seattle Children’s is currently planning to build a second OBCC located adjacent to the Othello light rail station in the Rainier Valley. It will provide all the same medical, dental, mental-health and nutritional services and more, and will anchor a new urban community concept called Othello Square. The innovative community center will bring together a multitude of services a family could need all in one place. It aims to strengthen the local neighborhood — predominantly composed of ethnically diverse families, immigrant and refugee communities, and lower-income families.
About 80 percent of a child’s health depends on factors outside the walls of the clinic like stable housing, healthy food, safe neighborhoods, education and economic stability. What impresses me most is OBCC’s dedication to going the extra mile to build partnerships to care for kids in the community — from making sure children have warm coats in winter, to helping make homes safer.
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The new clinic will also be a pilot-program site: A place to implement new programs and build best practices that improve kids’ health. The goal will be to find the most successful practices and share them in our region and beyond to help these children, our children. They are the future.
According to the senior medical director of OBCC, Dr. Ben Danielson, “We care about all our kids, the ones we don’t see in the clinic as much as the ones we do.”
Danielson, whom I affectionately call Dr. Ben, is a quiet health-care hero of our region, and has become a good friend of mine.
I look up to Dr. Ben because of the person he’s become and because of the future I see him creating here in Seattle. It’s never more apparent than when he interacts with children that you see his impact. Dr. Ben cares deeply for his patients, and can relate to many of their experiences. Over the years, I have watched a young adopted boy named Isaac and Ben connect. Isaac was once small, quiet and shy. Today, he’s a tall, strong, articulate young man who fondly regards Ben as a sort of father figure and a mentor. The bond they have goes beyond health care. Dr. Ben cares for the whole child and he cares for our future.
After my decades as a news anchor and health reporter, this clinic still stands out in my mind. It’s a place anyone can support, an example of equitable health care that can be emulated by cities across the country.
As part of the It Starts With Yes: The Campaign for Seattle Children’s, I’m saying YES to OBCC, a place that’s not only making children healthier, it’s building a healthier community. Join us in saying YES to OBCC — a magnet for wellness and a pillar of a stronger future.