Two years ago, the city closed its homeless health care clinic on Portland Street and transferred those services and patients to the Portland Community Health Center.

The consolidation, which has had mixed results, is seen by some as an indication of how challenging it would be to close the city’s India Street Public Health Clinic.

The nonprofit Portland Community Health Center, which opened a clinic in West Bayside to provide the services to the homeless, has exceeded its goals for providing direct medical care to patients, but lags in its oral health, behavioral health and substance abuse programs.

According to data provided by the center, the nonprofit served more homeless patients than expected in 2014 and 2015, and is on pace to exceed its 2016 goal of 2,400 patients.

However, the city clinic saw 1,065 dental visits and 858 behavioral health and substance abuse counseling sessions in 2013, compared with the 368 dental visits and 426 behavioral health and substance abuse counseling sessions by Portland Community Health in 2015.

Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street, a nonprofit that runs a soup kitchen and resource center, said a lack of services and limited hours at Portland Community Health are causing more people to go to local hospitals or the India Street clinic, or go untreated.

“There’s some really strong staff at PCHC we work with everyday, but they don’t have the capacity to support fully what the city offered before,” Swann said. “That’s not to say PCHC won’t get there, but at this point it’s a much lesser clinic than it was when the city ran it.”

Maine Medical Center experienced an increase in the amount of emergency department visits from 437 a month in 2014 to 548 a month in 2015. MMC also saw an increase in free care, from $22.6 million in fiscal 2013 to $24.3 million in 2015.

It’s unclear whether the transition from the city-run homeless clinic to the nonprofit played a role, according to Maine Med spokeswoman Susan Pierter. “We are concerned about the trend and events such as this (closing the clinic) are likely a contributing factor, but to what degree it is unknown,” she said.

Mercy Hospital didn’t respond to requests for information about emergency department visits.

Swann said he has been in talks with Maine Medical Center about opening a new homeless health clinic, among other programs, although no decisions have been made.

Dawn Stiles, the city’s Health and Human Services director, said the city didn’t conduct an analysis of how the previous transition went and doesn’t plan to do one.

Stiles said she has seen the clinic’s work firsthand and hasn’t heard of any complaints from patients or providers.

 


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