Comics from the Seattle/King County Clinic, part 3: The Impact

Five years have passed since the first Seattle/King County Clinic, a giant pop-up event that has offered free medical, dental and vision care each fall for four days at KeyArena. Public Health – Seattle & King County is proud to have been part of this enormous community effort, along with over 100 other organizations.

In 2019, with the construction of a new arena at Seattle Center, the Clinic is on hiatus. We’re taking this pause to reflect on what the impact of this free clinic has been, as told through two comic strips, the third in a series of comic journalism from the 2018 Clinic. The first tells a very personal story about the difference the Seattle/King County Clinic made in the life of one individual, and that person’s legacy on the entire event. The second story steps back for the big picture, illustrating key achievements and more importantly, the work still left to be done.

Lasky FOR JANET 1 webLasky FOR JANET 2 webLasky FOR JANET 3 webLasky FOR JANET 4 web

Artwork by David Lasky, written by Meredith Li-Vollmer

Epilogue page 1Epilogue page 2Epilogue page 3Epilogue page 4Epilogue page 5


Thanks to the Seattle Center, the Seattle Center Foundation, and Public Health—Seattle & King County for support of this comics journalism project. Special thanks to the artists Amy Camber, Ellen Forney, Kelly Froh, Tatiana Gill, Roberta Gregory, David Lasky, Meredith Li-Vollmer, and Rachel Scheer who volunteered their time and to all the patients and volunteers who shared their stories with us.

More on the Seattle/King County Clinic at

Originally posted on February 7, 2019.



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I am a risk communications specialist at Public Health - Seattle & King County.

13 thoughts on “Comics from the Seattle/King County Clinic, part 3: The Impact

  1. Amazing story and comic — can’t agree more with the long term goal! Thanks again for your hard work on this blog – I’m in awe of your PH communication skills! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Crystal! The Epilogue was challenging to write and draw–how do you sum it all up in 20 panels? Appreciate the kind words.

  2. I was one of the people at that first clinic. One of the teeth that the dentist helped me to save was just finally pulled last month. I had years more use of that tooth because of that clinic. They also gave me a pair of shoes that I still wear to this day. Since I currently need extensive (expensive) dental work that is not covered by Medicaid I hope that these clinics never go away for good. Too many people need this every day!!!

  3. With health insurance still not being affordable for every individual and the cost of medical treatment often times being far too expensive for most, clinics like these are extremely important. I am a public health student at the University of Washington and have the privilege of working alongside a diverse student body. I have far too many friends who work full time and receive benefits but still cannot afford to visit the dentist due to copays, deductibles or the bill they will inevitably get post-treatment. Others do not have insurance and are still drowning in bills from that one night they had to visit the ER, so preventive care is out of the question financially. Without clinics like the incredible Seattle/King county one, even more individuals would go years without preventative health care and commonly needed procedures.

    As a strong believer in the power of preventative health care, I stand behind clinics that work to provide routine check-ups, like mammograms, for anyone who may need it. A free clinic allows individuals to take care of their health without the extreme burden of navigating a health insurance program or somehow deciding between their health and rent. This clinic has done so many positive things for the King county community and I look forward to finding ways to support this clinic in re-opening and providing care.

  4. This was quite a touching illustration of what our healthcare system is doing to people. My question is why was it even questioned to put the Seattle/King County clinic on pause? Putting this clinic on pause would have been an appropriate decision if no one needed help and access to free medical care. Didn’t the existence of this clinic make it apparent that our health care system is doomed? It’s unfortunate that Janet lost her life. This is a story that many of us can relate to. This should be a wake up call for all healthcare stakeholders especially those who make the decision and definitely those who decided to shut the Seattle / King County Clinic down. This is a reality that many Americans live (legal or illegal) face but we just accept it. I think that anyone in this country should have access to free health care of affordable health care. It’s not fair that there are people sitting on millions of dollars looking at the rest of us as we slowly die.

    Our current administration is creating more harm than before to low income people. Is this an ideal healthcare system when we know this isn’t good enough for the majority of the people and we still continue to live by it?
    Why can’t we copy some systems that have shown success in the people’s health. For example: Canada or England etc… We need a policy that addresses inequity in this country – that includes everyone and give everyone equal access. If Melinda gates can afford a mammogram every 6 months, (and all the other check ups we need every 6 months) shouldn’t I be given the same opportunity? I pay taxes, and obey the rules. So why is it like this? We must change our policy.

    I feel like Key Arena should find a way to resume this as promised before that it will happen every year. It is offensive to stop this service just because they are reconstructing. What they are doing – rebuilding Key Arena will never be comparable to someone’s life. (1) They are spending millions of dollars building a space to play sports in. That’s what the outside environment is for. There are many existing stadiums and courts they can play at if Seattle Storm is really in need of extra space. (2) Key Arena was fine and already huge, why do they have to reconstruct it and chip away only change people can seek healthcare? Seattle King County Clinic is way more important.

    1. From what I have heard, the new owners of KeyArena are very supportive of continuing the Seattle/King County Clinic. But planning a clinic of this scale is a huge, huge undertaking, so relocating it while construction is happening requires a lot of time to plan and literally hundreds of other logistical matters need to be put in place, much of it on volunteer time. It’s so much more than just having a venue. Fundraising must be done so all the equipment can be rented, there’s coordination with all the medical organizations and healthcare systems to make sure healthcare providers are available on the same dates, making sure there is sufficient electrical and IT infrastructure, tables and chairs, interpretation machines, donated food for the volunteers and patients, skilled volunteer staff and everything that makes this clinic run. There have been over 100 organizations involved and everyone has to be ready to commit to a new plan. The organizers are hopeful that a temporary location can be found for 2020 and that all the details can be worked out. We know how important this event is to meet those immediate health needs!

      And as you noted, we need a better system that includes everyone and provides access for all, period.

  5. This was such an amazing story/comic! I was very touched by the story of Janet and I cannot even imagine what would many individuals would do without this program/event. Also, I totally agree with a longer term goal/permanent solution in place for the clinic since health insurance is still not affordable and the cost of medical treatment (e.g. visits to primary care physicians and even the dentists due to copays) are still too expensive for many folks, which is why I believe clinics like these are extremely important.

    As pre-medical student at the University of Washington, I am a strong proponent for preventative care and access to basic healthcare for all (e.g. routine check ups, screening, vaccinations, etc…). Because of this, I was wondering if you thought of what would be the best possible solution in continuing and integrating this free clinic program into our daily lives (e.g. what should the city implement to make this event more accessible for all and not just available in one day)? In addition, I was wondering with the current government stance on affordable healthcare, do you think this event would be impacted? Because I can see how much of an impact this free medical service event has on the individuals who cannot afford medical services and it got me thinking what we can do to prolong this event until we find a more permanent solution.

    Please let me know what do you think Meredith!

  6. This blog post has great impact. It raises awareness about a multitude of issues that often go without attention, and it is a great example of showing the power of individuals in mobilizing for change through sharing of their stories, experiences, and through advocating for community-led interventions.

    My studies in Public Health at the University of Washington helped inform my thoughts as I read through these comics. I think that this blog post is a good example of the three different types of prevention that are addressed in Public Health: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary prevention is aimed at early interventions to look at root causes of issues; secondary prevention mitigates the effects of a process that might have already started but that might not have progressed; and tertiary prevention is more like treatment for a condition that has already developed and progressed. This Seattle/King County Clinic calls attention to all three. The health care services that the clinic provides relate to secondary and tertiary prevention – providing treatment and identifying health conditions that can be mitigated. But it also addresses primary prevention because it calls attention to the circumstances under which many of these people live and work that have put them in the position of not being able to access the services they need. It is these institutionalized, structural issues like having healthcare and educational systems built on profit, that are often not discussed because it can be uncomfortable or difficult to talk about them – this clinic is a great way to bring those forward.

    I guess the question remains – what is the best balance of primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention? And how can the health care system be turned around so that it emphasizes preventative care much more than therapeutic care?

  7. Thank you for sharing this story! Reading about the personal stories and experiences people like Janet have had with the clinic really show what kind of an impact it has had on the Seattle/King County community. The impacts of a free clinic really do go much further than just a few days. The range of services and levels of preventative care offered by the clinic is impressive, and seeing healthcare organizations, professional associations, and public agencies in collaboration for the effort is great for public health. As stated in the epilogue, while there is still much to be done and lots of systemic change still needs to happen to minimize barriers to health, it is great that the clinic has brought up more conversations about accessible healthcare options and goals for the long-term.

    With the support of the community and volunteers and patients alike, I don’t doubt that the clinic will be back in the future to provide care. I hope to see the clinic around for as long as it is needed here in Seattle, but I also hope to see Seattle as a place where everyone can get the care they need. Thank you for this engaging, informative comic!

  8. I loved this comic because it was such an easy way to help citizens understand the impact of these free clinics but also the ultimate public health goal. Reading personal and emotional stories are the way to impact people the most. As a PH student at the university of Washington, I realize how hard it is for some to have access to healthcare because of insurance issues. Even when insurance covers some, the price is still high. The impact of free clinics can help as little as just a physical check up or can help as much as detecting cancer. I loved that the comic illustrating a real life story showed us that the clinic focused on secondary prevention, which is screening for cancers or illnesses. The earlier one detects a disease, the easier it is to fight off. Prevention and early detection is key and I think society as a whole needs to focus on that more.

    My stance on the free clinics is that it should resume. I understand it is expensive, but Seattle has extremely high rates of homelessness. The price of living here is way more than many parts of the country. I have also learned through working at an immigrant clinic that have plenty of immigrants who lack health insurance and fail to see any type of doctors for decades. The impact of these clinics are tremendous for the people who receive care from it and I can see it doing plenty more in the future!

  9. As we can see from Janet’s story, it is not only important to directly fund healthcare clinics, but also allot state and federal budgets for preventative care. The biggest question to think about: how do we balance and appropriately split funding up among care, preventions, interventions, or education? Although she did not have insurance through her employer, it is difficult to know Janet qualified for Medicaid and was unaware and never informed of such options. If Janet had insurance for regular checkups and had the ability to establish a primary care physician who would oversee her general health, she could have potentially been screened sooner. Finding out she had risk for breast cancer, or was at stage 1 instead of stage 3 could have started treatment sooner and given her the likelihood of higher health outcomes.

    As Christine Lindquist, executive director of WA healthcare access alliance, mentions that we need to move in more systemic ways. Stakeholders may find short-term solutions, but together we can brainstorm and share our long-term solutions to healthcare, volunteer in aspects of healthcare we would love to see change in, and participate in local community events such as the Seattle King County clinic fighting for access to healthcare for so many of our neighbors.

  10. I really appreciate these comics drawn up for the Seattle King County Clinic. They highlight such important topics that need more attention in our public health care system and policies. As a Health Navigator for University of Washington’s on-campus clinic, I come across students on the daily that need access to affordable health care but cannot receive it. Ineligibility is usually due to being an out-of-state student or undocumented student. Additionally, students that have had their green cards for less than 5 years are ineligible for Medicaid. Our health care system in the US is very difficult to navigate and we often gear our students to community clinics, similar to this one, that provide low cost or services free of charge if they cannot afford upfront costs without health insurance. Health is a human right and, while these free clinics have helped so many, we need to move towards more systemic change.
    From managing the opioid epidemic to finding solutions for people experiencing homelessness in King County to receiving yearly dental checkups, the prioritization of accessible, low-cost health care should be at the forefront of public health policies and implementation.

  11. Thank you for sharing this story as it really brings to light the diversity of those who are in need of care, putting off care, or can’t get care due to the difficulties in our country and its expensive health care system. Janet’s story is so touching, but it is also so unfortunate that our health care system pushes people out of care until it becomes too late – only to focus on treatment instead of focusing on holistic wellness and prevention. This has become the culture in the United States Health Care system and the fact that it is such a privatized business has compounded this fact even further. I hope to see an expansion of services in the future, and that the SKKC continues to have amazing and caring volunteers and donors, allowing this event to happen.

    I volunteered at this event with the Seattle-King County Dental Society and University of Washington school of Dentistry in 2017 conducting surveys with patients who came in to the clinic about their dental needs, dental services past use, reasons for not getting care, insurance status, and if they had a dental home or not. It is extremely saddening how many people do indeed have insurance but are refused care by dental professionals. Due to this fact, your point about needing to increase reimbursement rates really spoke to me. More dentists need to be taking Medicaid insurance but in reality, for a highly business based health profession, without this key factor most just aren’t going to. Thankfully in Seattle there are Community Health Centers, but even then, there are many barriers such as long waits for appointments, need for transportation, child care, flexible hours with work… the list goes on. Not only that, but not everyone knows about them or that they can access them. I very strongly believe in the power of care that CHCs give, so while surveying I made it my mission to talk to each person I surveyed about my knowledge of CHCs – how they help you get insurance and other services, do not turn you away based on your ability to pay or your citizenship, etc. – I hope that by spreading the word and allowing people to be heard I made a difference in their care needs and helped them to find a much-needed dental home. Many of us complain about the luxury of having to go see the doctor or dentist – if we all saw the pain and hope many people had coming into that clinic I think we would all be a little more grateful for our yearly check-ups and would be inspired to give more to our community. Thank you for capturing the amazing impact of this clinic and for giving some insight into what we should strive to work for in public health and health care in the future to make health and wellness possible for everyone no matter their situation.

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