OPINION | The future of the Odessa Brown Children’s Hospital in the Central District


by Shaquita Bell, MD

The Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic opened more than 50 years ago in its original home in the Central District. This first location on East Spruce Street was the result of Ms. Odessa Brown’s vision that no child should be denied medical attention because of race.

This clinic was home to OBCC for about a decade. In 1980 we moved to what is now an integral part of the Central District on Yesler Way – a place where patients and families can get the care they need, regardless of someone’s ability to pay or background.

I recently made the difficult decision, with the support of other Seattle Children’s leaders, to temporarily close the Central District location after realizing the building needed major repairs that would be too disruptive to our patients and families. That decision was ultimately mine and I wanted to share my thoughts on this temporary closure.

We will not give up the Central District. This neighborhood is our history and our original home. We want and need to be where our patients and families live. We know that more than 70% of our patients and families have left the Central District due to racism and gentrification, which has pushed many of our neighbors south. That’s why Seattle Children’s and the OBCC team have been working to raise funds and build our new facility in Othello, a location that will bring the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic’s mission closer to where many of our patients in the were pushed south.

When we made the decision to temporarily close the Central District location, we still had a full patient schedule each day. Everyone who entered saw a hustle and bustle as patients and families came daily for checkups, dental visits, vaccinations, or access to our complimentary pantry, which stocked families with everything they needed from bread to formula to diapers. We ran COVID-19 vaccination clinics there and advised parents on all the challenges of raising healthy babies into teenagers. They would see Odessa Brown’s vision as a true reality any day. I love working in the Central District and I want to be very clear – again – we will be bringing these services and more to the Central District again.

Second, surprises can happen, as anyone who has experienced construction or even simple building maintenance knows. Each building has a list of known maintenance items and general upkeep. Then there are maintenance needs that may need to be addressed a year, two, five years later.

Here’s what I know about the repairs needed. During a project to repair the weather barrier and assess the structural integrity of the OBCC Central District, structural issues came to light that far exceeded plans for existing renovations. The repairs would be required directly in our most used and active clinical spaces. There is also still much we do not know, but providing a positive experience for patients, their families and staff is a priority; Therefore, the decision was made to close the Central District site for the time being in order to fully assess the situation and develop a plan for the future.

I am well aware that some of our patients and families in the Central District are disturbed by the need to commute south for appointments during this transitional period. I truly apologize for this and know it is no small inconvenience. Please note that we try to make it easier by providing resources that can be found on the OBCC website, the OBCC Facebook page, and the Seattle Children’s Construction Blog.

We are also in regular contact with executives at Carolyn Downs, who own a 51% interest in the Central District building and care for many of our patients’ parents, guardians and grandparents.

As a leader and pediatrician who began treating patients at OBCC 16 years ago during my residency, I am optimistic about the future of OBCC and look forward to building an even larger community. We now have the opportunity to do something new in the Central District. To ask big questions about how we might redesign or build something that better serves our community. We can use this as an opportunity to see if there are any new services we should offer our patients and families and new common areas. To envision how we could be even stronger in the Central District. This is something we can all do together, and in the conversations I’ve had with families so far, I’ve seen that most share my excitement about what we can build together as a community.

Finally, I would like to thank all the people who are the true heart and soul of OBCC. It’s not about a building or a single person. It’s about the many babies, children, teens, teens, parents, guardians, doctors, nurses, office workers, janitors, social workers, behavioral medicine specialists, dentists, care coordinators, and the many others who help make OBCC so special and so important part in people’s lives. So many of you have adjusted to this temporary shift with grace, beautiful questions, and patience. I am grateful to you and I promise you that we will emerge from this time as an even stronger OBCC.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to creating space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that diverse perspectives do not negate mutual respect among members of the community.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this site do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of Emerald or Emerald’s official policies.

Shaquita Bell, MDis the senior medical director of the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic.

📸 Featured Image: (Photo: Carson Artac)

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