Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) decided to cut funding to Juneau’s homeless medical center at the end of September due to budgetary constraints.
Front Street Clinic got a six month reprieve when the community was able to raise more than $120,000.
Now, a coalition of local organizations have joined together to keep the clinic open, hopefully, forever.
Front Street Clinic is in the process of becoming its own non-profit organization with a new name – Front Street Health Center. It will still offer the same services – medical, dental, and behavioral health. And it’ll be run by a board of directors from agencies involved in the care of the homeless population.
“I think that all of these agencies just realized that if the Front Street Clinic disappeared, this huge gap would appear that nobody could fill,” says Mariya Lovishchuk, executive director of The Glory Hole, Juneau’s soup kitchen and shelter.
She’s also the president of the newly formed Front Street Health Center board. Other members come from AWARE, Bartlett Regional Hospital, Catholic Community Services, Juneau Alliance for Mental Health, REACH, and St. Vincent de Paul. The board also includes a physician, a public health nurse, and an accountant.
“Because so many entities are coming together, the clinic will be able to function really affordably and in a really sensible manner because the burden is now shared across so many caring and competent organizations,” says Lovishchuk.
Board members are providing resources and services to help run Front Street. For example, Catholic Community Services will take care of Medicaid and Medicare billing, REACH is in charge of janitorial services, and an accountant for Elgee Rehfeld Mertz will do Front Street taxes. “I just feel so grateful to live in a community that has so many dedicated and caring individuals and organizations coming together to ensure that people have access to a very, very basic thing which is primary medical care,” says Lovishchuk.
Board vice president Dr. Carlton Heine was one of several emergency room doctors who donated money when Front Street was in danger of shutting down in October. He says they recognized that if the clinic closed, most of its patients would end up in the ER.
“We’re very good at heart attacks and broken bones and lacerations. We’re not very good at chronically managing diabetes or hypertension or chronic health care,” Heine explains. “We’re good at acute care, not at chronic ongoing primary care, and the Front Street Clinic does a much better job of providing that kind of service for these patients.”
Bartlett Regional Hospital will provide laboratory and imaging services for Front Street. If a patient needs an x-ray or blood test, instead of being sent to SEARHC, the patient would go to Bartlett. “Paying a little bit for these appropriate tests ordered through a primary care doctor is certainly a less expensive route for the hospital than having these patients become much sicker, patients in the emergency department with those tests being done through the emergency department, and then potentially sick enough to be admitted to the hospital because they haven’t had the appropriate primary care,” Heine says.
The plan is for Front Street Clinic to become Front Street Health Center when SEARHC gives up management. “Currently SEARHC is operating the clinic through the end of April and we are working very closely with the homeless coalition in Juneau to make – if at all possible – a seamless transition,” explains Dan Neumeister, the organization’s chief financial officer.
Partial funding for Front Street Clinic comes from a $160,000 grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, which ends April 30th. The new Front Street Health Center board hopes to secure the same federal grant, as well as pursue other funding sources.
SEARHC operated Front Street at around $600,000 a year. Lovishchuk says the anticipated budget under the new board is 30 percent lower.
Another difference is that more people will be able to access services. Front Street Health Center will still cater to the homeless, but will also be available to low-income people and others in need of medical care.