Students volunteer at free clinic

By Jager Dzurcanin - Staff Reporter

Highline nursing students gained first-hand medical experience and aided vulnerable people in the community by volunteering at the Seattle/King County Clinic on Sept. 20 at KeyArena.

Though Highline students only participated on the first day and helped almost 900 patients, approximately 3,000 to 4,000 people were offered health care services by the clinic from Sept. 20 – 23.
The Highline Nursing Program was one contributor at the event, along with health care organizations, civic agencies, non-profit private businesses and volunteers who pro- vided a full range of free dental, vision, and medical care to local residents.

The Seattle/King County Clinic is an annual event, but this was the first time High- line's Nursing Program participated.
Patients were registered and ushered through the clinic by the Highline nursing students, who were doing intake and re- cording each person's medical history.

"Gathering health history is what we do all the time. It's the basis for any interaction with a patient," said Jacqueline Derosso, a Highline nursing student who assisted in the free clinic.

Highline had more than 15 volunteers at the clinic, and were one of two student groups there.

Most volunteers or contributors were registered doctors and practicing nurses from organizations across the region.

The purpose of these organizations collaborating to put on this event was to "provide health care services to people who would not have access to [them] otherwise," said Derosso.

Many attendees were in fact covered by insurance, and they came for issues that were not covered by their plan, namely dental work.

Mariah McBride, another nursing student who volunteered at the event, said "Lots of people did have primary care providers, but their deductibles were too high."

The demographics noted at the event were rather diverse, and the clinic was not predominantly comprised by a particular group.

"Most of the people were just normal people you would see on the street," said Dr. Steven Simpkins, director of the Nursing Program.

"I only ran into one per- son who said they were off the streets," McBride said, adding that "all of my patients had actually been there before."

She also noted that the majority of attendees were in fact everyday citizens, like most college students or their parents, and that this was a surprise to her.

The clinic admitted its first patients at 6:30 a.m., but patients arrived as early as six hours beforehand to wait in a sheltered tent that had its own volunteers.

The first tickets were given out to people in line around midnight, and the majority of people had been there since 2 or 3 a.m., waiting in the volunteer tent or camping in line, the students said.

Volunteers went down the line of campers in the hours be- fore opening, taking temperatures and vitals while handing out snacks.

McBride said many patients were yearly visitors who already knew the procedure, and that "Most people have kind of made a habit of [attending], because that's the only way they can get what they need."

The venue was set up with a registry lobby that led out to the bleachers of KeyArena, where dental, medical, and vision treatment centers were localized on the main floor.

Dental care was the largest attraction because it is the least covered by medical insurance, and it ended up requiring the most space within the venue.

Surrounding the dental area were medical and vision clinics, all of which were separated by privacy screens, McBride explained.

"It was a really big place with a lot of rooms. There had to be a lot of helpers just to walk people to the right room," said Derosso.

McBride said that the volunteers doing "warm hand- offs" were just as important as volunteers doing admissions, preparations, and operations, due to the sheer scope of the event and how crowded it had become.

There was a quick orientation before the event began, giving the volunteers information on how to efficiently process clients, as well as giving briefings on mental health complications and interpretation technology for foreign patients.

"Two of our students translated all day, one for Spanish and one for Vietnamese," Mc- Bride said.

Other duties taken on by Highline's students included the checking of vitals such as heart rate and blood pressure, sampling blood glucose and INR (blood clotting) levels, and sterilizing medical equipment.

Some Highline volunteers were even assigned to administer vaccines and educate the clients on their importance and effects.

Their jobs were limited due to their status as students, and Derosso explained that this was because "We're not registered nurses yet, [so] we had to be there under the supervision of Steven Simpkins."

That being said, the event offered a chance for nursing students to learn on their own from a hands-on experience with relatively minimal over- sight.

There were "A ton of opportunities for us to do things independently," said McBride.

"The communication was probably my No. 1 takeaway," she said.

The Highline volunteers said that the practicing medical officials at the Seattle/King County Clinic were eager to lend practical advice to the aspiring nurses, and volunteers were encouraged to communicate with the rest of the crew.

As nursing experience, the event allowed Highline nursing students to partake in a clinical setting without just shadowing registered nurses to observe their work.

The workday was described as being a cycle of "Get a patient, help fill out their forms, send them to the next place, get another patient," Derosso said.

There was an abundance of things to account for, and very few people to account for them, so nurses and volunteers were expected to man- age their own breaks, the students said.

A "quiet room," as described by Derosso, both for patients and volunteers including Highline students, was available as a stress-free atmosphere, separate from the hectic clinic, where one could decompress.

The nursing students said that one thing they would not forget about the event, was just how ineffective our current health care system seems to be, and how many people it tends to overlook.

"To believe that the turn- out was so high because of our failed health care system, when you put a monetary value on health, people are going to fall through the cracks," said Dr. Simpkins.

The clinic allowed Highline nursing students to gain valuable work experience while simultaneously alleviating the financial stress that is prevalent in today's society, Derosso said.

Dr. Simpkins added, "If people have the option to pay for electrical bills or remove a tooth, [or] feeding their kids or taking care of a stomach ache, they will always choose feeding their kids and paying their bills."

Highline nursing students said that they were happy they could assist the clinic in pro- viding this invaluable service to the surrounding community.

By the end of the event, and certainly throughout, "there was a lot of hugs, a lot of crying, and a lot of thank you's," Mc- Bride said.

Derosso summarized the event by saying "It was nice to connect with people, and some people really expressed gratitude for the clinic."

The Seattle/King County Clinic anticipates to host the event for its fifth concurrent year in the fall of 2019.

Justin Maley contributed to this report.

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