PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland Community Health Center — which saw an increase in homeless patients from 71 in 2012 to 626 in 2013 — announced over the weekend it will receive a significant federal grant to help expand offerings to accommodate the influx.
Those figures represented an increase of more than 800 percent in terms of the numbers of homeless patients served by the Park Avenue clinic over an 18-month period.
On Saturday, the health center announced it was awarded a three-year U.S. Health Resource and Services Administration grant of nearly $680,000 to provide what it called “new and expanded health care” for the growing patient group.
“Portland Community Health Center has experienced a dramatic and steady increase in the number of people, especially families, who are experiencing homelessness and need health care services,” health center CEO Leslie Clark Brancato said in a statement. “Of particular concern, 40 percent of our new homeless patients during this time period were under the age of 21, revealing an alarming increase in the number of homeless families needing health care.”
Approximately a year ago, the health center received a previous federal grant — also of about $680,000 — to help it initially expand after transitioning from being a municipal operation to an independent nonprofit organization. The center uses a sliding-fee scale based on patients’ ability to pay.
The city of Portland still operates its dedicated Health Care for the Homeless Clinic on Portland Street and the largely grant- and donation-supported Portland Community Free Clinic on India Street. Both have been threatened in recent years by losses of funding, with MaineCare reimbursements from the state in jeopardy due to budget cuts and, in the case of the free clinic, a decision by Mercy Hospital in 2012 to stop its annual $200,000 contributions to the operation.
“The needs of Portland’s growing homeless population are larger than any one organization can address,” Brancato said. “Our goal is that every person have access to primary health care. With an average of 434 people seeking shelter each night, reaching this goal requires a community effort, and the time is right.”
Brancato said the Portland Community Health Center plans to leverage its standing relationships with local hospitals, health care providers and community groups to help pursue the goal of making health care in the area accessible for all, regardless of means.
She said that in the first year of the new grant, the center will increase its hours and operations at its current facility at 180 Park Ave. During the second year, it will add a new health center location to further expand access.
“This funding will allow more homeless people to have access to a family doctor and a primary medical home, and that’s good for our entire community,” Brancato said in her statement. “When people are healthy, kids do better in school, workers are more productive and health costs are lower for all of us. … Access to primary medical care is proven to reduce visits to the emergency room, improve health and lower costs.”