Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

Bill to transition India Street services leaves some uneasy

Krysteana Scribner | The Free Press

Posted on April 19, 2016 in News
By Krysteana Scribner

The city of Portland is looking to pass a new budget, which could cause all clinics at the India Street Public Health center to close. In the wake of this decision, over 20 public health workers would lose their jobs, and 1,114 patients receiving care at these clinics would be forced to shift their services to the Portland Community Health Center.

With the loss of India Street Clinics, there will also be a loss of programs for HIV Prevention, Positive Health Care, STD Clinic, the Needle Exchange, Free Clinic and the Immunization Clinic. The India Street Needle Exchange, which currently distributes more than 100,00 clean needles yearly, would also be shut down, with the current idea to transfer the services still in it’s early stages of thought.

The Portland Community Health Center, a privately run non-profit currently provides their services to over 6,600 people a year, but in the transfer of services, it had been made unclear how they will accommodate that demand of services that will be lost on India Street.

Jessica Grondin, director of communications for the city of Portland, stated that she doesn’t anticipate any problems to arise, and made clear the reasoning as to why this consolidation has been proposed.

“The city is no longer receiving as many grants as we used to, and unfortunately the federal government is no longer funding cities. They want health care to be distributed through these federally regulated health care services all under one roof,” she stated. “Instead of waiting another year or two and losing all our grants, we’re trying to proactively take the steps to start transferring these services and maximize reimbursement levels and make sure.”

Grondin is right about the heavy reliance on grants for India Street: According to the Public Health Division’s 2014-2015 annual report, the India Street clinic had an annual budget of $1.4 million, with nearly half of that cost being paid through federal and state grants.

She further explained that across the country, municipal health services are no longer providing direct clinical care, pointing out that only 11 percent of cities provide direct health care in clinics like those found on India Street. For Grondin, the change can be seen as a positive one.

However, other individuals in the community have expressed more concern for the issue at hand. Last Thursday, members of the Portland City Council’s Finance Committee expressed their concerns about the plan to close the health center on India Street. The three member committee will vote next week at a public hearing. If the proposal goes through, the vote will go back to the full council and they will have the first reading on May 2, with a second read and vote on May 16.

Dick Morin, a senior sociology major at the University of Southern Maine and participant in the Students and Recovery group on campus, explained that although he has never personally used the services on India Street, he knows a lot of individuals who do, and the loss of these services would be detrimental to their well-being.

“I think if services were transferred to another entity, the continuity of care will be broken,” he explained. “You have people who have gone to this clinic for years and people have a comfortable factor along with relationships being formed. You don’t have to have an appointment to get served, either – if this transfer occurs, I think a lot of people will get swept through the cracks.”

Other individuals gave a similar response regarding the possible change, with worries that it will lead to reduction in efficiency, accessibility and reliability of currently well-integrated services. The widespread fear is centered around the possibility that the community health care will not be able to live up to it’s promise of community health support.

“Even if you plot it out perfectly, somebody is going to get lost in the shuffle. I don’t see how that is not possible,” said Erika Ziller, a health policy researcher and faculty member at the University of Southern Maine’s graduate center, in an interview with the Portland Press Herald. “I just don’t know this plan has been fully thought out to the extent it needs to be to be effective.”

As a follow-up statement, Mayor Ethan Strimling informed the public that their concerns were being heard via Facebook last week, stating that as he reviews the proposal, he will be looking to ensure that if any changes are made in serving those in need, there will not be even the slightest reduction in their service.

“I firmly believe that a city can and should be judged by the way we treat the most vulnerable among us,” he wrote. “It is incumbent upon the council as we review the City Manager’s proposed budget to keep that in clear focus.”

The proposal will go before the City Council’s Finance Committee from 2-5 p.m. Thursday at City Hall. The committee is charged with making a recommendation to the full council. A public hearing and vote on the proposal is scheduled for April 21.


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