Our country has long needed easy and affordable access to health care. RotaCare Tacoma provided free medical care for persons with chronic serious diseases on the campus of Pacific Lutheran University. We had a close relationship with the PLU School of Nursing, so this was a really good fit. Our home at PLU offered easy access via Pierce Transit from major areas of Pierce County.
The clinic was the brainchild of super volunteer Janet Runbeck ARNP. Janet found nurses, doctors, clerical workers and businesses to volunteer with all aspects of health care. I was the board chair as a past president of the Rotary Club of Tacoma. Our Rotary club operated as a sponsor as a member of RotaCare Free Clinics of Puget Sound and their chairman, Robert “Bob” McBeth.
In 2012 Jeff Rounce of the Business Examiner recognized Rotacare as Health Care Champions in his South Sound Business Report. Recognition was giving at a gathering at the Tacoma Glass Museum auditorium. Although everyone worked extremely hard, we all had a great laugh at Janet’s tongue-in-cheek interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. (It really happened.)
Watch the clip from The Daily Show: cc.com/video/0cerfn/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-the-obamacare-apocalypse
Our mission was to provide free chronic medical care to Tacoma and Pierce County residents with serious chronic diseases who had no insurance or access to medical care. RotaCare was a coalition of volunteers: Physicians, nurses, pharmacists, medical technicians, social workers, translators, clerical workers and Rotarians helped provide free medical care in a collaborative effort with hospitals, clinics, community service organizations and service groups.
Dr. Mary Hoagland-Scher was our physician in charge. Other doctors volunteered as well. Everyone had other jobs or came out of retirement but still found time to help. September 28, 2013 was our fourth birthday. We closed in January 2014.
Referrals to us were strictly from neighborhood health clinics in Tacoma and Pierce County.
At any one time we had as many as 150 people as our patient load. Once patients had been established, we would see them once or twice a month. We referred out to other medical clinics and providers about 120 people for each of our four years. We were only open one night a week, where we saw about 15 people each time. We generally had 50 people on a waiting list for medical care. We had a great community partnership of people and organizations who helped Rotacare Tacoma become the success that it was.
There were so many important aspects of this project. It was a definitely a group success. Our volunteer nurses were the heart of the operation.
Organizations and corporations helped in many ways with reduced fees, medical supplies and low-cost prescriptions for chronic medications, such as insulin.
We probably saved the life of each and every patient we saw. Stories abound about the people who benefited: One young man had a future thanks to Rotacare. He came back and shared his story. We kept one client until he was eligible for Medicare. He later wrote a note to Janet saying that he had never received such good medical care in his entire life. With the note he included a check for $500. This from a client who along with his wife scrimped and saved to take their grandchildren out to a movie.
On April 3, 2014 Janet was recognized by Rotary Club of Tacoma’s President Don Hansen as the winner of the 2014 Community Service Award.
The memories remain but the patient charts and volunteer files only lasted until this week. All charts and files were destroyed on February 16, 2021.
We successfully placed our all our patients with other medical treatment venues. Thank you, thank you, all volunteers. You made it happen.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.