It’s time to set the record straight: The city of Portland’s India Street Clinic is not closed, and it has never been in danger of fully closing.

This false narrative that the city in some way, shape or form closed the clinic must stop. As has been recounted many times since 2016, there was a need to transfer one of the clinic’s grants and programs to our local federally qualified health care center. This happened in conjunction with staff from the city’s Health & Human Services Department, India Street Clinic, Greater Portland Health and Positive Healthcare patient representatives. Were there lessons to be learned from this transition? Yes. But at no time was the plan to do away with any of these much-needed services in our community.

It is true that the Positive Healthcare grant was intertwined into many of the other programs at the India Street Clinic. One large component of that was the role of the medical director, who oversaw the operations for the Positive Healthcare patients as well as the sexually transmitted disease clinic and the Needle Exchange Program. This was recognized, and the city made plans to contract with a new medical director through Maine Medical Center.

It is under that new medical director and the partnership with MMC that our India Street Clinic has actually expanded services. Since 2017, our STD clinic has added PrEP (short for pre-exposure prophylaxis) and PEP (short for post-exposure prophylaxis) for HIV prevention. In partnership with MMC, we now have residents at the clinic to offer an educational experience that they can take to their own practices. An online appointment scheduling system has been implemented to improve patient experience and reduce wait time. New revenue streams have been identified. And since COVID-19, we have worked with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to provide at-home HIV testing options.

But despite all these new efforts, our STD clinic numbers still remain lower then they were in 2015. Why? Because a false narrative continues to be spread in the community that our clinic was closed. This narrative is actually harming the clinic more than the transition of the grant did. In 2015 and 2016, our STD clinic patient numbers were 1,258 and 1,260, respectively. In 2017, they dropped dramatically to 987. Staff have worked diligently, and still, in 2019, we had 1,046 patients.

The city and clinic staff have worked feverishly to combat this narrative that the clinic was closed. In 2017, our India Street staff created a poster and flier announcing “We’re still here!” and distributed it widely. Then later that year, staff found during a Google search that the clinic was being reported as permanently closed on the search engine, something that can be devastating to a small clinic. Yet despite the drop in numbers and significantly reduced revenue in 2017 and 2018, the city has remained committed to the clinic, its programs and its staff.

The ongoing myth that is constantly perpetuated on social media and in op-ed pieces in this paper – that the city of Portland does not value health and human services – is patently false. The city’s Health & Human Services Department is actually the largest of all city departments, and has continued to grow. Our staff of 372 employees commit themselves daily to serving the people of Portland. They are first responders in the truest sense, and they deserve a tremendous amount of praise and admiration.

If you truly support and value the mission of our health and human services in this city, I ask that you please think about how the rhetoric that is being used is actually hurting the clinic that you claim to support, and is devaluing the work of the amazing people who work tirelessly to make Portland a better place for all.

 

Correction:

An earlier version of this column said that the city never had a plan to close the India Street Clinic. There was a proposal to close the clinic in 2016, but it was not approved by the City Council. 


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