According to a source close to the situation, a friend affiliated with the city’s public health division, the proposed budget for the City of Portland eliminates all funding for India Street Public Health.
Note: See many, many updates below, including the one all the way at the bottom about the Press Herald report about the closure and how it fits into the proposed budget overall.
Below, the source lays out why this is a terrible idea.
This is an incredibly important read for all, and I encourage you to contact your city councilors immediately. We are in the midst of crisis right now and eliminating health options for the absolutely most vulnerable immediately strikes as a devastating move.
I have edited the piece slightly to protect the identity of the source.
It is with a heavy heart and a good deal of anger that I write this. Today I found out that the city of Portland’s budget for the upcoming year eliminates all funding for India Street Public Health. IF IT PASSES, this budget will cause over 20 public health workers to lose their jobs.
More drastically, over 2000 of Portland’s most vulnerable patients will have nowhere to receive medical care. India Street Public Health is home to the Portland Community Free Clinic, a clinic run by volunteer doctors and nurses for people without any health insurance. It is also home to the only 24/7 HIV primary care practice with the only two board certified HIV speciality doctors.
The Portland Needle Exchange Program has over 900 clients who for the most part, receive virtually no medical care outside of what the program offers – safe injecting equipment, advice on reducing harm, overdose prevention education and routine HIV and hepatitis C testing.
Additionally, the state’s only STD clinic is housed at India Street, where our on-site laboratory processes over 1500 specimens a year and our Disease Intervention specialist contacts and treats everyone who tests positive for a sexually transmitted infection.
An article will be coming in the Portland Press Herald and this editorial from our city manager, Jon Jennings, makes it seem like this decision is a productive one. Phrases like “transfer of care” and “transitioning patients” will be used to hide behind the truth – that if the budget passes as planned, these services will discontinue and these 2000 patients will be forced to go to emergency rooms at best, or receive no medical attention at worst.
I ask one thing of Portland residents and loved ones, PLEASE consider reaching out to our city councilors and please consider attending the upcoming public hearings (scheduled for May 2 and May 16) and voice your concern and disapproval for this irresponsible action.
The work the clinic has done and will continue to do until it shut us down is top-notch and rarely found at other clinics. It operates on a shoe string and those there are proud of how much we offer in such an interconnected and integrated way.
I offer this plea: Don’t let the city of Portland get away with this… I am confident that this budget could be denied IF we come together and do what’s right for our sick, poor, stigmatized and marginalized.
Update [12:50p]: A reader just responded:
I’ve been to this clinic, I’m not ashamed to say, at a time when I was between health insurance and didn’t want to waltz into an emergency room. These people are worth their weight in gold. And not only do they provide medical testing and treatment, they provide advice and counseling, even to people who call them up on the phone. They don’t just help the most vulnerable, they help the entire community – just in ways that people don’t normally like to talk about.
Update [1:35p]: Additional reader comments:
I was unemployed a few years ago and they were my only source of health care…all the doctors were volunteers (a couple were retired) they are a brilliant and necessary resource.
I’d like to add that as a trans patient, they were some of the best and most competent health care professionals I’ve ever been seen by.
Update [1:45p]: After following up with the city’s press representative, I was informed that perhaps she would have been more inclined to comment had I reached out before I shared the insights above.
Update [2:24]: It is worth noting that this purported shift in funding comes at a time when, according to this article in the Press Herald, the demographics represented on India Street are changing. “The India Street neighborhood has been the center of some of the most ambitious condo developments in recent years.”
Update [8:21p]: This report from the Portland Press Herald confirms this cut and further details specifics. Regarding the overall budget of which this closure would be a part, the paper reports that “several councilors agreed with the direction of the budget, some raised concerns about the tax increase.”
With regard to net losses of city workers, the Press Herald notes that “City Finance Director Brendan O’Connell said in an interview Thursday that there could be a net loss of about 13 full-time equivalent positions, with around 50 jobs being eliminated and another 30 to 40 being created.”
In the same piece, Communications Director Jessica Grondin, who did declined to offer comment after I ran this original piece, is noted for having also declined to make anyone from India Street available to the Press Herald for an interview. She echoed that the closure would eliminate 13.5 full-time equivalent employees.
Of the broader outcry regarding reorganization of services, City Manager Jon Jennings said, “We’re never going to be able to do everything for everybody.”
Update [April 5]: This piece has been edited (specifically Update [8:21p]) to reflect that the projected net loss of city employees is not necessarily specific to those in the public health sector.