International Community Health Services (ICHS) Manager Jenny Tsinker feels right at home at the helm of the new medical-dental clinic in Bellevue.
The 6,500 square-foot clinic, slated to open for business in May, is ICHS’s first foray into providing services on the Eastside. As the largest health care provider for Asian Pacific Islanders in Washington State, ICHS is one of the most diverse health care organizations in the nation, offering services in more than 50 different languages. ICHS has welcomed waves of non-English-speaking immigrants and refugees through its doors since its founding as a tiny storefront clinic in the International District nearly 41 years ago.
“I’ve gone through the same experiences as the staff and patients of ICHS,” Tsinker explained. “When I hear the difficult stories of people relocating from Laos to Vietnam to the United States, I’ve been through the same kind of thing, except in another part of the world.”
Tsinker, who was born in Kiev, Ukraine, speaks four languages: Russian, Hebrew, Spanish, and English. Her language fluency alone will be put to good use managing activities at a new health center, which expects to draw patients from a sizable Asian, Latino, and Russian population that now claims the Eastside as its home.
The Bellevue clinic is located at 1050 140th Avenue Northeast, three miles east of downtown Bellevue, bordering the ethnically-diverse Crossroads neighborhood. The clinic includes 10 medical exam rooms, eight dental operatories, behavioral health rooms, patient waiting space, and staff offices.
Tsinker was only seven when her family left the Ukraine in 1990, seeking religious asylum as Jews. The initial plan was to move to New York where Tsinker’s family had relatives; however, they chose to move to Israel instead, lured by the welcoming pronouncements of the Israeli government.
“When I started school, I had a hard time because kids weren’t always friendly to outsiders,” she said. “I remember how it felt when we first immigrated to Israel and we were going to the doctor. My mom couldn’t understand what was being said. She was clueless and was looking to me to help interpret. She thought I could speak Hebrew perfectly, but I was struggling.”
Tsinker, who lived for 18 years in Israel, completed her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the Hebrew University and worked in the bone marrow transplant unit and pediatric oncology department at Tel HaShomer Hospital, the largest hospital in Israel. She later worked as a nurse at an outpatient clinic in Ashodod.
Tsinker moved to the United States with her husband after he decided to pursue a business degree in New Hampshire. After he graduated, the family moved to Seattle. Tsinker worked as a public health nurse at the King County Public Health Department from 2011 until she joined ICHS in December 2013 as Health Center Manager.
“I would like to see ICHS expand, become a regional player, serve more diverse populations, and continue our mission of serving the underserved,” she said. “It’s wonderful that we provide interpretation services at ICHS. We have such an important role to play because it’s really intimidating for immigrants navigating the system. I know from my own personal experience.”
Even though Tsinker feels at home at ICHS—as a self-described “Russian-Israeli” who’s still fairly new to America—she’s just beginning to discover the joys of Asian cuisine.
“I’m still learning about Asian cultures and about ICHS,” Tsinker said. “The first time I ever tasted Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese food was three years ago. I love it. My favorite is phad thai. But I have zero tolerance for spicy foods. Every time I go to lunch with my staff, they laugh at me because I don’t eat the spicy foods and I don’t know how to use chopsticks.”
Tsinker says she has no plans to return to the Ukraine to visit. Her family members are now in Israel. She goes back to visit Israel almost every year.
In her spare time, Tsinker enjoys figure skating at an ice rink in Renton.
“Since I come from Israel, which is a very hot country with only one ice rink, I always dreamed about figure skating,” she said. “The first thing I did when I came over here was to enroll in classes for figure skating. And now I do figure-skating as a hobby.”