My name is Andi Love. I am a physical therapist and owner of Salmon Bay Physical Therapy in Ballard. My husband and I work hard to make sure our clinic is involved in charitable events. Every year we have food drives, make Thanksgiving baskets and participate in YWCA’s adopt-a-family. I love to see how our wonderful community gets behind these events to help those in need. Lately, however, I’ve had the feeling that there is more that I should and can do, as a human, a community member, and as a PT. That is why on Saturday, October 29 I volunteered at the Seattle King County Clinic at the Key Arena.
Seattle’s free clinic is one of the largest in the country. Due to the persistence of Matt Currier, PT, of Group Health, physical therapy was included this year for the first time. I learned of the clinic via an email that circulated through the close knit Seattle physical therapy world. I responded with an emphatic “YES.” However, the unknown started to make me nervous. Salmon Bay PT is a small, outpatient orthopedic clinic. Would I be treating wounds? Amputees? What if I couldn’t provide the best care for people who were seeking my help?
The clinic is run like a well-oiled machine. There are people who line up the night before to get in for care the following day. If they don’t get to everything they need, they get back in line for the next day. The treatment areas are set up in suites. There are clinics from PT, to blood labs, to HIV testing to acupuncture. The floor of the arena seemed to be all dentist’s chairs with the hum of constant drilling in the background.
As physical therapy was new to this venue, we only had one suite with two massage tables. The day I was there, we were a team of four for most of the afternoon. We were cramped, but we made do. We would share the tables, treat on the floor, or treat people out in the hallway. We routinely had a line of five to eight people waiting for treatment. Towels, Theraband, reflex hammers, mobilization belts and all other equipment was brought by the volunteering therapists.
We saw everything from old spinal-cord injuries to low back pain to sprained ankles. Most of the people I saw did not have insurance and those who did, could not afford the deductible. A good percentage of the people I saw needed an interpreter. 100% of the people I saw were kind and so so grateful for what we were doing. The toughest part was not handing over my card and telling these people I would just see them for free. Forever. (Because I wanted to.)
Physical therapists have a gift to give people. We aren’t offering a passive treatment. Every person who walked into that room, including their family members, was educated about how to help themselves. While I referred many to social work for future care, everyone went home with stretches, exercises, stick figure drawings, posture instructions – something that they could do for themselves. On Saturday, we had so many people who wanted to get into PT, that they closed the line early because the wait was so long.
My hope for next year is that we have so many therapists who volunteer that we get the same four to five treatment rooms that the acupuncturists and chiropractors had. I hope we get one treatment table per volunteering PT. I hope that we don’t have to close the line early and turn people away because we don’t have enough PTs to handle the volume of people who need our care. I hope that there is a waiting line of PTs who want to volunteer their time. I hope that all volunteers can work without judgement or questions in order to give this community the care they need.
To end, I would like to thank Matt Currier, PT, once again for seeing the need for us to be there and fighting to get PT included. He was there all day, every day from Thursday through Sunday. Because of Matt, I know we will have a bigger presence next year!
And from Andy Lodato:
The Seattle King County Clinic (SKCC) is the biggest free medical clinic in the country. The event encompasses four days and provides various services to the uninsured and underinsured in the area. For the first time (thanks to Matt Currier), physical therapy was a service provided during this clinic. I had the privilege of volunteering for the first day of the clinic on October 27th.
It was an amazing experience to volunteer and provide a needed service to so many who were so grateful we were there. I could probably ramble on for days about what the experience was like for me, but I felt there were three overriding themes to my day volunteering:
- Helping Others – At one time or another, PTs ultimately get the question: “Why did you want to get into physical therapy?” Typically, that answer circles around to the desire to help others. That theme has stuck with me for the past 16 years, but through the other requirements of the profession, it can get lost. All of the other outside noise such as PQRS, pre-auth, productivity, etc. can get in the way of what this profession is really about – which is helping others. My volunteer time at the SKCC brought home why I do this for a living. Shuffling in patients every 20-30 minutes and providing them with an exercise, a little education or a little motivation without the administrative burden our normal clinical life was profoundly powerful.
- Simplicity – Since it was the first time for PT, there was no script or template of equipment to provide, resources available or how we were going to manage the workflow. We literally had zero equipment other than two treatment tables. We documented everything with pen and paper. My world famous stick figure drawings translated well for HEPs. It was a nice break for a day to step away from the EMR system and to use just my head and hands to provide care to so many.
- Everyone has a Story – I was blown away by the stories of our patients on that day. 90 percent of our patients had full time jobs where it was cheaper for them to take an unpaid day off to receive medical care than to use whatever insurance they had. Many of our patients were in line at 4 a.m. to reserve a spot, some were in line from midnight. We got so backed up, that some patients waited 30-40 minutes to be seen. Each of them was grateful for our services and for volunteering our time.
It was a long day of treating patients (11 hours to be exact), but it flew by. After the end of the weekend I spoke with Matt and PT treated 174 patients roughly providing around $30,000 of free care. I would encourage anyone who is interested to volunteer at an event like this one, it is a great way to give back and to grow as a PT.