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Passage of Portland Budget Settles Debate Over India Street Clinic

Caroline Losneck
About 200 people marched in support of the India Street Public Health Clinic in Portland on May 1.

The city-run India Street Health Center in Portland will be managed by a private, nonprofit health center by July of next year. Portland city councilors approved a city budget Monday night that draws to a close a contentious debate about the fate of the longstanding clinic.

Some services offered by the center will transfer sooner than others. By January of next year, HIV services will switch to the Portland Community Health Center, a federally qualified health center.

That move affects about 200 patients, including Carl Smith of Freeport, who told city councilors on Monday that he wants to stay with his current providers.

“The relationships that I have with those doctors there is untouchable,” he says. “They helped me get back in school, they’re helping me get my life together, they got me on medication. It’s just amazing and I’m just so confused that you would shut this place down.”

India Street will continue to offer testing for sexually transmitted diseases and a needle exchange, and will operate the Portland Community Free Clinic for six months longer — through June of next year. After that, Portland Community Health Center will take over operations.

While supporters of India Street say the change breaks apart critical patient-provider relationships, Portland resident Anne Pringle says the services are being preserved.

“The services in question are not being terminated, they are being transferred to a local clinic that provides the client-centered, team-based approach to coordinated care. Yes the providers will be different, but I am convinced the care will be equal in quality and outcomes,” she says.

Portland city manager Jon Jennings initially proposed the shift in services because federally qualified health centers receive higher reimbursement rates for care.

While Mayor Ethan Strimling was initially critical of the plan to close the India Street Public Health Center, he described the final budget proposal as a compromise.

“I will not stop asking questions until I know that no patient has fallen through the cracks. And if the process looks as though it’s headed off track at all, I will immediately call on this council to take action,” he says.

As part of the budget, councilors approved a requirement that two patients each from India Street and the Portland Community Health Center help plan the transition of services.