Health care services for Juneau’s homeless population didn’t lapse for even a day while Front Street Community Health Center transitioned from being a program of SEARHC as Front Street Clinic to an independent, community health center.
The health center will continue to offer its services to Juneau’s homeless, with just a few changes — some of them pretty notable.
“The biggest change, I guess, that we really want to talk about is that we’ve had grants that have come through,” mental health care provider Mary Fitzgerald said.
The health center received a grant for $121,000 from the Alaska Mental Health Trust, a grant for $162,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration for serving the homeless, and a $43,000 capital grant from the State of Alaska that will be used toward purchasing essential equipment.
Community contributions helped keep the health center afloat before the grants were administered. There are still other grant opportunities the health center will seek.
“The grants allow us to get started and donations would be wonderful as well, but what we’re going to be doing to supplement the grants is we’re going to begin accepting community members ... on a fee-for-service basis and Medicare, Medicaid, Blue Cross Blue Shield,” Nurse Practitioner Janna Brewster said. “The grants don’t cover everything so we have to have a revenue flow.”
Front Street Community Health Center will begin a limited expansion of services June 16, still focusing on medically underserved groups. The health center hopes by mid-July to expand further to include any community members seeking medical services.
“A year out, we hope to be operating fairly independently,” Brewster said, though she added that the center will still be pretty grant-dependent for at least a few years.
The estimated annual operational budget for the health center is $500,000.
The health center, which offers integrative care for mental, medical and dental health, until now only to homeless patients, proved its value in the community when the news came that SEARHC would close the clinic in August 2013. The clinic received contributions totaling more than $100,000 from the community to continue providing service to its patients.
“We do have a vision and we do have a place within this community,” Fitzgerald said.
“The community has shown us that,” Brewster added. “The community’s helped us to see the need for the clinic and the importance of being here. It was an amazingly humbling experience to have so many people reach out and try to help us.”
Brewster and Fitzgerald said they are grateful to SEARHC for starting this clinic and happy to be continuing the work as an independent health center.
Other changes are administrative and revolve around the transition from operating under SEARHC to operating independently. The health center has had to transfer electronic records and update billing, as well as bring on an interim executive director to handle developing policies and staff contracts. Dee Ellen Grubbs has taken on that role for now. Janelle Anderson with Elgee Rehfeld & Mertz has been handling payroll. The health center is also overseen by an active 12-member board representing various agencies.
Even with the big changes, Brewster and Fitzgerald said they’ll provide the same integrative health care that their current patients rely on — they’ll just be offering that care to a greater number of patients.
“It’s not just about taking care of the medical needs, the mechanics, it’s really about taking care of people,” Fitzgerald said.
More of Juneau will now be able to benefit from the services, Brewster said.
“We’d really like to welcome the community,” she said. “We’ve been fortunate to work with the homeless all these years — it’s been 10 years now — and it’s been wonderful experience and it will continue to be an important part.”
The Front Street Community Health Center will begin taking new patients Monday and the currently small staff will grow as its number of patients grows. Brewster and Fitzgerald said they’re a little nervous with all the changes, but proud to be providing this service to the community.
With the needs of the community and a model they are confident in, Fitzgerald said, “I think we will be a wild success.”
The office, located on the second floor of the Miner’s Mercantile building on Front Street, is open to patient care from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the Front Street Community Health Center at 586-4230.