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Portland Clinic Supporters Rally Against Closure Proposal

Patty Wight
India Street Public Health Center supporter David Jon Timm speaks Thursday at a rally in Portland.

Supporters of a public health clinic that faces closure rallied in front of Portland City Hall Thursday.

The India Street Health Public Health Center could shut its doors this year if a proposed city budget passes. But patients and local lawmakers say the clinic serves the city’s most vulnerable residents, and without it, some patients will slip through the cracks.

If the proposal goes through, India Street patients would be transferred to the Portland Community Health Center. As a federally qualified health center, it receives higher reimbursement rates. But India Street patient David Jon Timm fears something important will get lost in the transition.

“I know my medical records will be transferred anywhere, and I can go anywhere to get services. My 12-year relationship with my doctor, I feel, is going to be thrown out the window,” he says.

Timm is HIV positive, but says he’s doing well precisely because of the strong relationship he has with his physician at India Street.

Many at the rally acknowledged that Portland Community Health Center also has a good reputation, but Democratic state Rep. Diane Russell says there’s room in Portland — and a need — for two clinics that serve low-income residents.

“Why are we having a debate about closing health clinics, when we should be increasing the number of health clinics, increasing the access to health care?” she says.

Part of the concern over the potential closure of India Street is the uncertainty over how well the transition will be handled and whether patients will be able to access services in a timely way.

Local lawmaker Ben Chipman wants the city council to fund India Street for at least another year to allow time for more community input. But city councilor Ed Suslovic says the proposal to offer health care at the Portland Community Health Center has been part of the city’s vision for years.

“There’s a lot of good reasons to do this, not the least of which is that the federal government encourages and incentivizes exactly what we’re proposing by giving a higher patient reimbursement rate to federally qualified health care centers,” he says.

Which means the health center will be able to provide more comprehensive services, Suslovic says. If approved, he says city councilors will monitor the transition to ensure it goes smoothly.

The city’s Finance Committee has unanimously endorsed the plan to close India Street Public Health Center, while Mayor Ethan Strimling has expressed concern.

The city council will hold two public hearings on the budget before taking a final vote in mid-May.