A Brief History of ICHS
Today, ICHS provides care to thousands of patients each year in nine locations throughout the region, but its journey started in very humble circumstances over four decades ago. ICHS’s history is a story of the love, caring, commitment and compassion that residents have for their community and for each other.
In the early 1970s, low-income Asian immigrants in Seattle’s Chinatown had no options when they needed a doctor who spoke their language. The Pioneer Square Neighborhood Health Station was the only community clinic in the area but it was too far for many elderly Chinese and Filipinos to reach by foot.
With the construction of Interstate 5 in the 1960s, and the Kingdome stadium threatening to uproot homes and businesses in the area in the 1970s, Chinatown seemed like an unlikely place to launch a medical practice. But in 1973, a group of dedicated community advocates, including Sister Heide Parreño, Bruce Miyahara, Bob Santos and many others, brought culturally-appropriate medical services close to the neighborhood.
Dr. Eugene Ko, who owned the Jefferson Park Clinic in Beacon Hill, donated space for the advocates to establish the Asian Community Health Clinic. It would become the site for in-language health care for mainly elderly Chinese and Filipino patients living in surrounding area single room occupancy hotels. Volunteer doctors, interpreters and mental health staff operated the Asian Community Health Clinic from the Jefferson Park Clinic on Tuesday nights and eventually on Saturday mornings.
In 1975, the Asian Community Health Clinic moved to Chinatown – and the International District (ID) Community Health Center was born. The ID Clinic, as many still call it, was the first of its kind in the nation to serve a diverse Asian population at one location.
In 1996, the ID Clinic expanded to South Seattle. The clinic took on a new name – International Community Health Services (ICHS) – to reflect a second location, the Holly Park Medical & Dental Clinic, and the increasing diversity of patients.
The Holly Park site quickly drew more patients. By 2003, ICHS realized the need for a larger facility. The construction of light rail forced an early move for the clinic. In early 2005, ICHS opened the doors to its new Holly Park clinic on South Othello Street, blocks from the old location.
Since then, the number of patients has grown, especially during the Great Recession. The Puget Sound region’s diversity has soared. ICHS reflects that. Each year, ICHS offers quality and affordable services – including medical, dental, vision, behavioral health, pharmacy, outreach and healthy living assistance – in more than 50 languages and dialects.
In 2014, ICHS experienced unprecedented growth as it opened the Bellevue Medical and Dental Clinic in the populous Crossroads neighborhood, and the Shoreline Medical and Dental along the busy Aurora Avenue corridor. The opening of Bellevue and Shoreline medical and dental clinics culminated a years-long planning that started with a 2006 Community Needs Assessment and a series of feasibility studies to effectively gauge and serve the area’s need.
The ICHS Vision Clinic, which opened across from the ID medical-dental building in 2017, effectively extended ICHS’ scope of care to provide low-income patients, as well as other members of the community, with culturally and linguistically appropriate eye care services.
While much has changed in the more than four decades since ICHS opened its doors, its mission remains the same: to provide culturally- and linguistically-appropriate health and wellness services to anyone in need, and to promote health equity for all.
Read more about ICHS’ history in A Documentary History, a 35-year narrative view of the people and ideals behind ICHS’ work to serve Seattle’s communities written by ICHS Foundation director Ron Chew.