An Extraordinary Time » How We Got to Where We Are and How We Are Shaping Our Future

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Changing Demographics

The Pike Place Medical Clinic opened in 1978 at the site of the Motherlode Tavern on First Avenue in Pike Place Market. Its main purpose was to serve low-income elderly people, the bulk of downtown Seattle’s residents then. As the population downtown has changed, the clinic’s clientele has gotten much younger, averaging between 40 and 55 today.

Every year the clinic receives about 23,000 visits from about 3,500 patients. Three-quarters of those live below the federal poverty level. About half are uninsured. A third of the patients are homeless.

Because it can be difficult to find funding for clinics not serving children, the clinic relies heavily on private donations to continue its work.

Joe Martin, a social worker for the Pike Market Medical Clinic since its inception, visits 101-year-old downtown resident Pete Vensor as part of his job.

Joe Martin, 55
Back in 1978… many (downtown residents) were elderly living in old hotels, some of which are now either gone or have been transformed into upper-income use.

We made the argument that there was a need for accessible health care. Very quickly we became the primary health-care source for a lot of low-income people who otherwise had no place to go… For a great many people, the confrontations with bureaucracy – even bureaucracies that are ostensibly set up to help them – they’re intimidating… if a person is ill physically or mentally. Old and not as spry and mentally acute as they were, if a person is poor and desperate and feeling depressed or completely demoralized as a result of their economic desperation… surmounting the barriers of some of these bureaucracies can be almost impossible, and that’s where people like myself come into play to help them navigate these systems.

We are living in a time where increasing numbers of people don’t have health insurance, where the cost of health care keeps going up, where large numbers of people are being displaced and marginalized due to changes in the economic order.

The main challenge is making sure that I do everything I can to see that the clientele that come to me for help get the help that they need… This is one way I can manifest my commitment to a more just and equitable society…

Our society, sadly, is in the clutches of a mentality that is very anti-social and does not seem to give much care to those who are on the margins, and I’d like to see that change. I think we can change that.”

To learn more about Pike Market Medical Clinic and other Puget Sound neighborhood health centers visit:

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