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Hundreds line up for state's largest free medical clinic

SEATTLE, Wash. - Doors opened early Thursday morning for what is expected to be the state's largest-ever free clinic. Through Sunday, volunteers will offer a wide range of medical, dental, and vision services to thousands of patients who otherwise may not be able to afford care.

Organizers say there are no identification or income requirements. The event is open to anybody who could use a doctor's services.

Rebecca Cueva says she left Wenatchee Wednesday night to be among the first in line for dental work to relieve pain in her mouth.

"We arrived about 11 o'clock and slept on the floor," Cueva said. "It would cost me $10,000, what I have to do to my teeth. I couldn't afford that."

Organizers began handing out tickets in Seattle Center's Northwest Rooms at 3:30 a.m. Thursday. An estimated 500 people were already in line when clinic doors opened at 6 a.m.

"Over the course of four days, we hope to see 4,000 patients or more," said Julia Colson, King County Clinic project director.

"We'll be doing physical exams. Women's health will include mammograms and pap smears," she said. "If people need glasses, (there is) a remote optical lab that can make about 300 prescriptions a day."

Dr. Eilene Eugenio coordinates the vision clinic, traveling the country as part of Remote Area Medical and providing free services to mostly lower income individuals.

"There are some clinics ... on the East Coast where people camp out for two days in advance," she said. "We live in a country where there should be opportunities to have health care, glasses, dental work."

"This allows us to to provide that to patients," Eugenio said.

Volunteers can handle up to 1,000 patients a day. In some cities, RAM clinics reach daily capacity before sunrise, organizers said.

"The only criteria is that it's first come, first served," said John Merner, Seattle Center productions director, adding some patients could take all day to be seen. Arriving patients receive a ticket and number, and are called in order.

Dozens of local organizations and around 1,600 volunteers are part of the four-day event.

"People come here and work hard for 12 hours on their feet," Merner said. "But they walk away with smiles on their face. It feels great."

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