Cathy Fliris (left), Colleen Shannon (center) and Kathryn Arneson look over test results of a patient at the Safe Harbor Clinic in Stanwood. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Cathy Fliris (left), Colleen Shannon (center) and Kathryn Arneson look over test results of a patient at the Safe Harbor Clinic in Stanwood. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Free clinic provides ‘healing and hope for the hurting’

The only free medical care between Seattle and Canada is at Safe Harbor Clinic in Stanwood.

This is one of a collection of stories about nonprofits in Snohomish County.

STANWOOD — When people are out of options, they can turn to the Safe Harbor Clinic in Stanwood.

It’s the only free clinic between Seattle and Canada and it provides a range of services, including chronic, respiratory and podiatry care, as well as same-day drop-ins. The mission statement is “healing and hope for the hurting.”

Dr. Jimmy Grierson, who founded the clinic almost 10 years ago, said the demand has been greater than he could ever imagine. Throughout the years, the clinic has seen 15,000 people walk through the doors. Often, they need help for chronic health issues, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Other times, they’re getting major diagnoses for the first time, such as cancer.

People swallow their pride to come to a free clinic, Grierson said. That’s why it’s significant that a tiny site in a town of over 6,000 has become so popular.

“When people come in, they’re often afraid, embarrassed, but they have significant needs,” he said.

Like the man who was pre-diabetic, who quickly needed to change his lifestyle before facing dire health consequences. He received advice on changing his diet and started living a fuller, happier life.

Susan Sanderson (left) and Clarisa Shook look to see what patient is next at the Safe Harbor Clinic in Stanwood. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Susan Sanderson (left) and Clarisa Shook look to see what patient is next at the Safe Harbor Clinic in Stanwood. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Or the woman who worked at a nearby restaurant. She had a lung disease and she was afraid of losing her job from missing too much time. It wasn’t until she went to Safe Harbor that she learned how to take care of her disease. Now she can keep working without worrying about lengthy hospital stays.

Then there was the man who lost his job and family because of alcohol abuse. Not long after the clinic opened, Grierson counseled the man on steps he could take. Years later, the man had become a real estate agent. He approached Grierson at an event, crying, saying his life turned around that day.

“Those people are the real success stories to us,” Grierson said. “We pick them up when they are stuck and broken.”

Safe Harbor Clinic started as an idea thousands of miles away. Grierson was in Haiti on a medical mission sponsored by Camano Chapel. He saw firsthand how much a free clinic could do.

Then, he thought to himself on the flight home, if that could work in Haiti, why not Stanwood? There are people in desperate need of health care in his own community.

Grierson describes many of his patients as the working poor: those who don’t have health insurance through their employers, but can’t afford to pay for their own — not when they have to worry about food and rent.

Kathy Kerkvliet sits at the front desk of the Safe Harbor Clinic in Stanwood. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Kathy Kerkvliet sits at the front desk of the Safe Harbor Clinic in Stanwood. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The clinic started off as a leased space in Skagit Regional Clinic, twice a month. It wasn’t long until Grierson realized that Safe Harbor needed to grow.

So, in 2012, it moved into its own building. Now, it’s open every Wednesday and Friday, from 6 to 9 p.m., as well as some Mondays for referrals. It’s manned by three employees and 85 volunteers.

Grierson hopes to create a free clinic model, so the success seen in Stanwood can be replicated throughout the country.

In the more immediate future, executive director Sandy Solis said she plans to reopen the dental program next year, thanks to an anonymous donor.

Teaching patients is where Safe Harbor Clinic thrives, Grierson said. While the clinic may not have as much money or as many gadgets as a hospital, he said, it makes up for it by connecting with people and teaching them how to take care of themselves.

“Truly just loving your neighbor is really what we shine at,” Grierson said. “It’s bringing humanity back into health care.”

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; zbryan@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @zachariahtb.

Benefit concert

A benefit concert will raise money for Safe Harbor Clinic at 5 p.m. Dec. 16. “Stille Nacht,” an evening of European and Celtic infused Christmas music, will take place at St. Aidan’s Episcopal, 1318 Highway 532, Camano Island 98282.

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