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As Indigenous overdose deaths spike, new clinic in Seattle offers treatment, hope

The clinic will offer primary care medical services as well as Native medicine like blessings, talking circles and a sweat lodge.

SEATTLE — A new medical clinic in downtown Seattle will expand its services to the area's unhoused population.

The Seattle Indian Health Board (SIHB) held a grand opening for its new expansion clinic in Pioneer Square Thursday.

This 3,000-square-foot clinic will offer mental health, substance abuse and primary care medical services.

President and CEO Ester Lucero of the SIHB explained the clinic will fill a critical gap in services for the area's unhoused population. It will also provide accessible healthcare to those living in affordable housing at the Chief Seattle Center next door.

“They have 5,000 members, American Indian, Alaska Native members, who frequent the Chief Seattle club. And in our database at the Seattle Indian Health Board, which is just up the street, we were only seeing 500. so we were recognizing we really had to bring services to folks where they were,” said Lucero.

The clinic will also offer traditional Native medicine, including blessings, talking circles, and a sweat lodge. Other services include pediatric care, dental care, as well as substance abuse treatment. Increasing access to substance abuse treatment programs comes at a critical time.

According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control last month, 2020 overdose death rates for indigenous people increased 39% from 2019. Fatal overdose rates for indigenous women aged 25–44 are nearly twice that of white women in the same age group. Data also showed ultimately only one in ten Indigenous people reported receiving substance abuse treatment.

“[Programs are] needed now more than ever,” said Lucero. “I also think it's really important for us to educate communities. So think about peer-based Narcan programs. Those are things that we can actually train folks to do.”

Dawn Rodriguez knows what it's like to go without medical care. Formerly unhoused, Rodriquez has lived in affordable housing in the Chief Seattle Club, a Native-led housing and human services non-profit, since January.

“I see a lot of other natives that just live on the street here...and just being passed by, nobody helps them,” said Rodriguez. “A lot of the elders here, they don't have no rides, and I know it'll be really good for them so they can get their medicines right here. Including myself. I can just come downstairs now and I won't have to take long trips." 

US Senator Patty Murray helped secure $1 million dollars in federal funding to finish construction of the new clinic. An additional $5 million dollars in federal funds will go towards operating expenses through the 2023 fiscal year.

The clinic will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. staffed with two full-time doctors. Walk-ins are welcome. 

“We're also a federally qualified health center, which means that we serve all people, that we serve all people in the Native way. So our doors are open to everyone,” said Lucero.


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