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Health advocates meet to discuss community health center

The center is not a plausible replacement for Front Street Clinic in the near future

Posted: September 10, 2013 - 11:06pm  |  Updated: September 11, 2013 - 12:02am
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Pat Carr, Section Chief of Health Planning and Systems Development for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, gives an overview of what a health center is in the eyes of the federal government during a public meeting in the Assembly Chambers on Tuesday.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Pat Carr, Section Chief of Health Planning and Systems Development for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, gives an overview of what a health center is in the eyes of the federal government during a public meeting in the Assembly Chambers on Tuesday.

About 30 health care providers, activists and community members met in the CBJ Assembly Chambers Tuesday afternoon to discuss the option of opening a community health center once Front Street Clinic loses support from its parent organization, SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, at the end of April 2014. The clinic provides free health care to the homeless and low-income populations of Juneau.

However, developing such a health center, which would serve uninsured and insured clients and charge on a sliding scale, would take years of research, planning and grant writing — and Front Street’s staff only has six months to devise a long-term plan to continue services for its 300 patients.

Patricia Carr, State Office of Rural Health director, presented the requirements for opening and operating a community health center, as well as getting the proper funding. The type of grant the center would need requires the city it serves be classified as a “Medically Underserved Area,” or possess a “Medically Underserved Population.” These qualifications correlate highly with population-to-health care provider ratios, Carr said.

Although the homeless and uninsured people of Juneau could potentially be classified as medically underserved, Carr said, it’s unlikely Juneau as a whole will ever be labeled as such. There’s no shortage of doctors here, she said.

“In my experience, getting a place like Juneau designated as underserved is nearly impossible,” Carr said.

Betty Stidolph, case management director at Bartlett Regional Hospital, said that although Juneau might have plenty of doctors, uninsured people have few places to go for health services. That demographic definitely counts as an underserved population, she said.

“It’s almost impossible to get a primary care physician for someone who’s uninsured,” Stidolph said.

This includes the homeless population, said Mariya Lovishchuk, Glory Hole homeless shelter and soup kitchen director. And Juneau has one of the highest homeless populations per capita in the country, she said.

Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies manager Mandy O’Neal Cole said at the end of the meeting that a community health center is not a plausible replacement for Front Street Clinic, at least not in the near future.

“It’s clear this is down the road,” she said. “We need to come up with something that’s implementable in six months. There has got to be some other answers out there.”

Longtime Alaska physician carolyn Brown, who facilitated the discussion, said after the meeting that finding a replacement for Front Street is just one part of the problem. She said Juneau needs to better integrate its physical, mental and social health services in order to better serve its population.

“Front Street Clinic is one tiny brick in this wall of access to health care,” Brown said.

But that brick is vital to many people who rely on the clinic to stay healthy. In the face of closure, Front Street received more than $100,000 in donations in less than a week. It still needs $46,000 to guarantee the doors stay open for six more months, Lovishchuk said. Anyone interested in donating can contact the Juneau Community Foundation at 523-5450.

Because the health center isn’t a realistic option right now, Lovishchuk is assembling a crew of 10 people to split the work in finding and implementing a solution to continue services once those six months are up. She’s sure the group will find a great solution to the problem, and the funding to go with it.

“There’s so much work to do, but there’s such great people to do it,” Lovishchuk said. “I’m almost glad we only have six months because that means we’re going to have to focus, focus, concentrate.”

Anyone interested in joining the work group can contact Lovishchuk at thegloryhole@gci.net.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com.

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