Front Street Community Health Center opens doors to all

The new Front Street Community Health Center sign. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The new Front Street Community Health Center sign. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Juneau’s Front Street Clinic is now providing service to the general public while also continuing care for the homeless.

Renamed the Front Street Community Health Center, it’s operating under a new business model after Southeast Alaska Regional Health Corporation severed ties at the end of April.

When SEARHC first announced the closure of Front Street Clinic last fall due to budgetary constraints, Front Street’s behavioral health specialist Mary Fitzgerald says the providers were worried.

“What are these homeless people going to do? The winter is coming on. They’re vulnerable. But then the community came forward and said, ‘No, this just can’t happen. What can we do?'”

Janna Brewster is Front Street's main medical provider and manager. Mary Fitzgerald is the behavioral health specialist. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Janna Brewster is Front Street’s main medical provider and manager. Mary Fitzgerald is the behavioral health specialist. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Community donations kept the downtown clinic open while a new board of directors formed to take over for SEARHC.

Front Street Community Health Center is able to continue serving the homeless with the help of two major grants – one for $162,000 through the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration and another for $121,000 through the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.

With a $500,000 budget, the difference will be made up by opening the doors to everyone – from the uninsured to the insured; even cruise ship passengers who have an urgent need.

Front Street has been known as a homeless clinic for ten years. Manager Janna Brewster is happy to continue that work but hopes Front Street can help others as well.

“We want people that don’t have insurance to have a place to go. That’s the biggest gap in services in any community – people who are working but they don’t have insurance,” Brewster says.

Brewster says they’ve had to turn away community members for years.

“Every day we get phone calls from people who are not homeless who can’t find a doctor in town or couldn’t find medical care and now we don’t have to say, ‘No,'” she says.

Front Street’s staff includes three full-time and three part-time employees. Brewster expects the staff will grow to meet demand.

“We have a pediatrician that might come join. We hope we can do more with kids and teens and really expand to just help out overall through the community,” Brewster says.

Throughout the seven-month transition, there was no interruption in medical service to the homeless.

Dean Smith suffered four strokes in 2010. He’s been going to Front Street for a couple of years for medical and behavioral health services.

“I’m not as nervous about my own health as I was prior to seeing them. Being diagnosed with arteriosclerosis in your head, that’s kind of an unnerving feeling. Basically that means you could have six seconds, six minutes, six hours – you never know,” Smith says.

Smith is happy he can still see Fitzgerald and Brewster now that Front Street is no longer in fear of closing.

Brewster says many patients were worried, especially when the old SEARHC sign was taken down at the end of April. The new sign wasn’t yet ready.

“During that time it was kind of quiet and the word was going around that we were not going to be here. In fact, someone even heard that we weren’t here anymore,” Brewster says. “But we put the sign back up and it’s like all of a sudden, everyone has calmed down. They know we’re here and they feel very happy that we’re still going to be able to help them. That’s the most wonderful part of all of this – there are people out there that are so grateful for what we do.”

The new Front Street Community Health Center sign is in place inviting new patients.

For more information or to make an appointment at the new Front Street Community Health Center, call 586-4230.

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