[Editor’s note: Among the missions of Neighborcare Health, according to their website, is “to provide comprehensive health care to families and individuals who have difficulty accessing care.” If you are fortunate enough to have not had such difficulties, then you may have overlooked the unassuming clinic located at the intersection of 45th and Densmore in a building still easily identifiable as an old fire station. I know that I’ve walked by it many times without giving it much thought.
This year, Neighborcare celebrates its 50th anniversary. The 45th St. clinic is not quite so old; it was established in 1985 and joined Neighborcare in 2001. Still, for more than 30 years, Neighborcare’s 45th St. clinic has served over 9,000 patients annually (during almost 32,000 visits) in our community, and provides services to youth twice a week at their Youth Clinic, the only such clinic in their lineup.
The following story was sent to us by Mary Schilder, Director of Marketing Communications at Neighborcare Health.]
Neighborcare Health can trace its origins back to the beginning of the community health movement that swept the country in the 1960s. That was the decade that Seattle started to take shape as a major city. The Space Needle joined the skyline, the first cars drove down the Seattle Freeway (later renamed I-5), and the city’s first community health centers popped up in local neighborhoods.
It was no accident that the radical idea of community health clinics grew out of the civil rights movement of the ‘60s. The founders of the community health movement were thoughtful visionaries who were willing to roll up their sleeves to do the work that needed to be done. They studied the systems that were designed to perpetuate inequality, and initiated change to improve the lives of others. For example, they found that a person living in low-income housing in some parts of the city would need to take at least two buses and spend more than two hours to get to their nearest source of health care. As a result, people’s health languished.
Seattle’s first community clinic, the Open Door Clinic, opened in the University District in the late ‘60s. The clinic served runaways and others experiencing instability in their lives, and was the first 24-hour multiservice center in the state. Transforming along the way to meet the needs of the community, the Open Door Clinic led to the establishment of 45th Street clinic in Wallingford in 1985. In 2001, the 45th Street clinic joined the Neighborcare Health family. Today the clinic provides medical, dental, behavioral health and social work services to patients of all ages. The 45th Street clinic is also home to the Neighborcare Health Youth Clinic, which serves youth and young adults experiencing homelessness and unstable housing two evening a week.
When they first evolved, community health centers were volunteer-based and existed on shoestring budgets. Many of the first health centers were operated in converted apartment units, taverns– the 45th Street clinic building was once a fire station.
By the early 2000s, community health centers had transformed into sophisticated health care entities that had embraced modern technology and created innovative practice standards to address the unique health concerns of the community. Today, community health centers provide care to more than 27 million people in the United States, and are an indispensable part of mainstream health care. They are a model for providing quality, cost-effective care tailored to the patient’s needs, culture and experience.
Despite the many changes Neighborcare Health has seen over the decades, what has not changed is the genuine human connection born out of caring for and knowing your neighbor. Neighborcare Health serves more than 75,000 people who face barriers to health care each year, and has become the largest provider of primary health care to low-income and uninsured families and individuals in Seattle and Vashon. No one is turned away due to inability to pay. All are welcome at Neighborcare Health.