Grace Clinic reaches milestone and plans for future thanks in part to Kadlec - courtesy of TCH

At Grace Clinic in Kennewick, a milestone anniversary and plans to keep helping for years to come

Grace Clinic started seeing patients 15 years ago in the basement of a Pasco church.

The two physicians who got the free clinic off the ground since have moved away. The church is gone, too — at least as it used to be. The building still stands, but the small Methodist congregation that welcomed the nonprofit disbanded in 2009.

Grace Clinic, however, still is going strong. Staff and volunteers this week are celebrating the milestone anniversary, and they’re also looking to the future — to the next 15 years and beyond.

“We’re here to stay,” said Robert Johnson, board president.

Since the clinic’s humble beginning, “we’ve come such a long way. We’ve been faithful to the cause. God has blessed us all along the way — that’s why we’re able to do what we’re doing,” he said.

Grace Clinic serves low-income, uninsured patients in Benton and Franklin counties. It’s logged about 62,000 patient visits since it opened its doors.

The Tri-Cities’ only free clinic provides medical, dental and mental health services. The need is great; the latest estimate puts the number of uninsured in Benton and Franklin counties at 32,000 people.

Grace Clinic grew out of conversation between Drs. Cheryl Snyder and Carol Endo. They met for coffee in late 2001 and got to talking about a medical mission trip they’d taken to Central America. What if they could offer similar help to people in need in the Tri-Cities, they wondered.

Before too long, Grace Clinic was born and taking patients in the basement of Pasco First United Methodist Church.

Johnson, who works in commercial real estate development, helped ready the small space, creating two exam rooms and turning a storage area into a pharmacy.

The clinic would come to life on Saturdays, with patients and volunteer providers filing in.

“We were sort of like a circus — we took the tents down every Saturday and then we’d pack up and come back a week later,” Johnson recalled.

Over the years, the clinic moved into bigger digs and expanded days of operation.

In 2012, it took over its current home — the former Benton-Franklin Health District building on West Canal Drive in Kennewick.

The space is 10,000 square feet — dwarfing the original basement space.

Grace Clinic now is open four days a week. At the end of the month, it’ll add a fifth day, thanks to a partnership with Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland and Trios Health in Kennewick.

The two hospitals are sending third-year medical residents to the clinic for rotations.

It’s a move that’s beneficial for the clinic and the residency programs, said Mark Brault, Grace Clinic’s volunteer CEO.

“It’ll give us a boost in capacity and be great experience for the residents,” he said.

A residency is an intensive hands-on training period that comes after medical school. Kadlec and Trios both have started residency programs in the last several years.

Grace Clinic has about 250 active volunteers, from receptionists to medical providers.

The clinic doesn’t get government funding and instead relies on local support to keep operating. It can always use volunteers and financial donations, leaders said.

Aaron Deaver, a longtime volunteer, said it’s meaningful work. He’s helped with the clinic’s computers and other technological needs since that first year.

Back then, “it was just a vision that a couple of doctors had. They went to work in the basement of a church and didn’t stop,” he said.

Now the clinic is celebrating 15 years — and thousands of people helped, thousands of lives impacted.

Brault said Grace Clinic’s success is a testament to the power of teamwork and dedication.

“It’s really a demonstration of what can happen when a bunch of community members come together to meet a need,” he said. “When you get a bunch of people working on (something), you can accomplish a great deal.”

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529, @SaraTCHerald