Federal funding award delays closure of Portland homeless clinic — but for how long?

Jon Pomerleau, who is missing most of his upper and lower front teeth, gets fitted for a partial plate by dentist Jennifer Fultz at the Heath Care for the Homeless Clinic on Portland Street in Portland Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011.
Jon Pomerleau, who is missing most of his upper and lower front teeth, gets fitted for a partial plate by dentist Jennifer Fultz at the Heath Care for the Homeless Clinic on Portland Street in Portland Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011. Buy Photo
Posted March 11, 2014, at 12:44 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A federal agency has agreed to offer Portland’s clinic for homeless patients additional funding to keep the facility open after April.

But how much longer after April remains to be seen, said Douglas Gardner, head of the city’s Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the operation.

The city asked the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration for nearly $500,000 to help delay the clinic’s closure, brought on by the agency’s recent decision to shift its funding of health care services for homeless people from the city’s Portland Street operation to the nonprofit Portland Community Health Center on Park Avenue.

However, the agency only agreed to allocate $360,000 to extend the life of the city’s Health Care for the Homeless Clinic. That’s not enough to keep the facility open until the end of the calendar year, as city officials hoped, Gardner said.

He said the city “appreciates” the extra HRSA funding and considers the award “good news,” but is working with the agency to gauge how much longer the clinic will be able to remain open.

“[T]hey didn’t fund our entire request, but from the communications we’ve received, it looks like they are expecting us to provide a level of service as if they did grant our entire request, and that is simply not possible with the level of funding available,” Gardner told the BDN in an email.

In January, the Portland Community Health Center announced it had been awarded nearly $680,000 by HRSA to provide health care services for Greater Portland’s homeless population. For the previous two decades, that federal funding had been awarded to the city’s clinic.

The change now triggers a transitional period, as city health care officials work to hand the baton to leaders of the nonprofit center. The loss of the federal funding represented a cut of more than a third of the Health Care for the Homeless Clinic’s annual $1.8 million budget, with the remainder covered by state reimbursements and smaller grants.

The city has decided that the clinic cannot survive without the federal funding, but Gardner said facility leaders need more time to close down properly.

As previously reported, the center’s HRSA application stated it will grow the Portland Community Health Center’s capacity to serve 1,000 new homeless patients by the end of the year, but potentially still not be able to absorb the city clinic’s entire roster of nearly 2,300 homeless patients.

Gardner said the extra $360,000 in federal funding will give his clinic extra time to formulate plans for the 1,300 extra patients.

But how much extra time is uncertain. Once the clinic closes, the city will eliminate its 19 full-time and four part-time jobs.

“It will allow us to continue to provide direct health care services for a period of time and transition as many patients as possible to the Portland Community Health Center,” Gardner said. “I believe HRSA’s decision to provide additional funding is a recognition that they understand this is a complex and challenging situation here in Portland; one that requires a thoughtful and unique approach.

“Hopefully we’ll have more information from HRSA in the next day or two which will inform us in terms of the level of service we’re able to maintain and for how long,” he continued. “We owe it to our patients, staff and the community to be clear on what we will be able to offer and what we won’t be able to offer during this extended transition period. … [T]he staff at the Health Care for the Homeless [Clinic] have really been amazing. I can’t underscore enough how impressed I am and thankful for their Herculean efforts. Their level of dedication and commitment to the needs of the city’s homeless population is truly remarkable and that commitment has been steadfast throughout all the turmoil over the past several months.”

 

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