Portland’s homeless population began the transition to a new health care provider on Friday as the nonprofit taking over the program from the city opened the doors of its new clinic for the first time.

Portland Community Health Center will not formally begin seeing patients at the Preble Street clinic until Tuesday. But by noon Friday, center staff had already enrolled 18 new clients during a “soft opening” of the new space across the street from the Preble Street Resource Center.

“It’s kind of a low-key opening as we welcome in the neighborhood and allow people to come in and walk around,” Leslie Clark Brancato, CEO of Portland Community Health Center, said as she gave a tour of the facility.

Portland officials announced in February that they would have to close the city-run Health Care for the Homeless clinic after losing a federal grant that accounts for roughly one-third of the program’s budget. Portland Community Health Center won the $680,000 grant and the city subsequently received $360,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help with the transition.

Those transition funds, coupled with aggressive hiring and expansion plans at Portland Community Health Center, helped alleviate concerns that Portland’s homeless population could face a coverage gap when the city clinic closed. The city plans to stop offering clinical coverage by mid-June and will begin scaling back dental services next month.

Health Care for the Homeless served more than 1,618 patients last year.

Portland Community Health Center’s new space at 63 Preble St. features several exam rooms, meeting or consultation rooms, a laboratory and a group office where the medical staff will sit together.

The clinic will offer primary care, as well as behavioral health care, including substance abuse counseling. The center is also working with the city and Community Dental to expand its dental offerings to clients.

Five employees from Portland’s Health Care for the Homeless program – including a licensed social worker/substance abuse counselor and a medical assistant – have joined the staff at the new clinic. Among those who made the jump to the new program is Bill Price, a social worker who spent much of Friday persuading his former clients to visit the new facility.

That continuity is important to Dwayne “Danny” Cook, who was among those to enroll at the new clinic Friday.

Cook has received care through the city-run clinic for the past 2½ years and called the staff “phenomenal.” On Friday, he filled out his paperwork and set up an appointment for early next week for additional care for a broken leg.

“Everybody is so friendly,” Cook said. “And the good thing about it is a lot of the people who worked over here,” Cook added while pointing to the city-run clinic, “will be working over there. So that’s comfortable for me.”

Brancato noted that while the clinic will cater to the city’s homeless population, it will be open to all residents in need of medical care. The Preble Street facility will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Portland Community Health Center also plans to offer care several days a week at the center’s facility at 180 Park Ave.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@pressherald.com