The new Suquamish health clinic, Healing House, recently held its grand opening, signifying the start of offering outpatient primary care to its tribal members.
Healing House is split into two sections- the primary care clinic and the tribe’s community health department, which moved into the facility last summer.
The primary clinic is led by medical director/family physician Dr. Kristine Ewing along with naturopathic physician Dr. Alex Kraft. Ewing is trained to take care of patients from prenatal to their last stages of life, while Kraft typically deals with adolescence and adults with a focus on supplements and naturopathic treatments. He also does acupuncture.
“We provide outpatient primary care to all ages,” Ewing said. “We don’t give out pills in the typical doctor sense but we try to be encompassing of everyone’s different needs and desires for more natural approaches.”
To start, Healing House will only serve Suquamish tribal members and families, with the hope of eventually serving other tribes, Suquamish employees and the broader community. Ewing said it’s a big deal for tribal members to have a health clinic on their land.
“We are right in the heart of the Suquamish community,” she said. “The next nearest medical facility of any sort is six to ten miles away. In terms of welcoming people and making them feel comfortable, that is really important. We have people who might be hesitant to use the healthcare system. I think a place that is their own really goes a long way. People feel like they can come in and trust us, and that we have their best interests in our approach.”
One of the staff members who helps bridge that gap between patients and doctor is registered nurse Cecelia Williams, who is a Suquamish tribal member. Ewing said having her onboard has been a huge help because she knows many of the patients, as do the community health nurses because they do home visits.
“All the feedback we’ve received from the community so far has been positive,” said Williams, who previously worked in critical care at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital. “They are really pleased to have their own clinic and are happy to have a tribal member working here, which makes me feel good.”
The clinic is seeing about a couple dozen patients. Ewing said adding another doctor could help increase that number but space is limited. “How can we grow and maximize our space?” she asked. “I think it’s going to be a good year until we figure out where exactly all that lands.”
There were a few delays in opening Healing House, which Ewing attributed to the complex nature of opening a medical clinic. She said they are fully staffed with about 15 employees.
“We had a shifting target,” Ewing said. “The structure is one thing … but a medical clinic is a really complex organism. You need people, medical supplies, equipment and increasingly you need electronic health records and resources. Getting all of those pieces into place, you kind of just have to keep working at it … What you think you might do at the outset, it just changes day by day.”
Ewing graduated from medical school in 1999, becoming a family physician shortly after. She moved to Kitsap County from California in 2005. She practiced at the old Harrison Hospital in Bremerton and Virginia Mason Franciscan Health on Bainbridge Island.
“People really need and want a primary care doctor,” she said. “It’s really a great joy and privilege to be able to do that, particularly for a group of people that really hasn’t ever had that to call their own.”