For many people on the Key Peninsula, healthcare costs can end up taking a good chunk out of their household budget.
This year, statewide insurance premiums have increased by 8.94%, according to the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner. Even those with employer-provided health insurance are taking a hit, with plans like Kaiser Health Plan of Washington and Premera Blue Cross going up as high as 17.81% and 12.2%, respectively. Families may find themselves spending at least $5,100 annually on insurance premiums, while individual coverage averages around $1,150.
Relief is available for those who need it.
The nonprofit Key Free Clinic aims to fill the healthcare safety net gap for those struggling to access or afford medical assistance. This assistance extends to those with private insurance who find it challenging to meet deductibles or copays, according to Anne Nesbit, the clinic’s executive director since 2015.
“There really is a need for this in our community, and we want to ease some of the stress associated with maintaining good health,” she said. Patients come from as far as Bremerton and Tacoma.
“Our mission is to provide support for those who lack access to medical care,” Nesbit said. “We’re community-based and our volunteers are people from our community who want to help and give back,” Nesbit said.
The volunteer staff includes two M.D.s, two advanced registered nurse practitioners, two nurses, and office staff.
Services focus on nonemergency medical issues, low-cost or no-cost specialist referrals and medical prescriptions. Nesbit said the goal is to get every patient enrolled in something more permanent, like Medicaid (Apple Health) or other Washington Healthplanfinder plans, and connect them to other resources. The clinic partners with Purdy Cost Less for prescription services and works with St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor for things like X-rays and lab work.
“We don’t want to be someone’s primary care provider, but in reality, that’s what some of our clientele need,” she said.
Approaching its 11th anniversary, the Key Free Clinic is slowly getting its legs back under it after being closed down for three years, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The clinic saw three to five patients per session before the pandemic. Since reopening last June, the clinic has seen just one or two each evening, but consistently enough to justify increasing its service to two evenings a month.
Appointments are on a first-come, first-served basis, and the clinic is open from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays each month, including Jan. 4 and 18. Those needing to see a member of the medical staff should plan on being there before 5:30 pm to reserve a spot.
Uncertain funding and some administrative woes forced Key Free Clinic organizers to scale back services during the pandemic and find a new home. Last summer the clinic opened up a makeshift examination room at the Key Peninsula Community Council offices at the KC Corral, located at 9013 Key Peninsula Highway NW. The clinic is funded by Pierce County grants and private donations to pay for rent, meds, and insurance.
Transportation to and from medical appointments, inside and outside the KP, remains an issue. Many of the same people who have a tough time affording health care have trouble finding arrangements to even get free medical assistance.
“We rely on patients using family and friends,” said longtime Key Free Clinic board member Chuck West. “We have a few volunteers who help bring people up from the neighborhoods down in Longbranch.”
The Key Free Clinic relies on its volunteers to keep the doors open. Nesbit said they are always looking to expand services to include vision and dental care in the future if they can find some providers to volunteer.
Get more information about the clinic on the Key Free Clinic Facebook page.
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