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Juneau Clinic On The Chopping Block

By | August 19, 2013

For many homeless people, Front Street Clinic is the most visible form of help. It connects them to other health and social services. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

For many homeless people, Front Street Clinic is the most visible form of help. It connects them to other health and social services. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Juneau’s Front Street Clinic is in danger of shutting down due to fiscal reasons. The public health facility, run by the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, caters to the capital city’s homeless and low-income residents.

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Up to 25 people a day visit Front Street Clinic to receive medical, dental, and behavioral health services. 59-year-old veteran Michael Needham is one of them.

He’s having impressions made for dentures. “They’re very thorough with what they’re doing and I thank god every day for them,” Needham says.

Dentist Ed Linsell takes an impression of Michael Needham’s teeth for dentures. Linsell sees about 70 patients a month. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Dentist Ed Linsell takes an impression of Michael Needham’s teeth for dentures. Linsell sees about 70 patients a month. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Needham has been going to the clinic for three years and likes the way the staff treats him.

“Like I’m special right now, this is your time. That’s just what it’s all about. They don’t get interrupted or nothing. It’s really cool the way they do that,” he says.

Needham also has cancer, “See these things, little red dots are all cancer spots and I’ve been coming here for them.”

Janna Brewster is Front Street Clinic manager and medical provider. She says the health condition of clinic patients range. Some of them are very ill with diabetes, high blood pressure, lung disorders, cancer.

“Without Front Street, undoubtedly, some of these folks will die because they’re not going to have the day-to-day care that we can help them with.”

SEARHC communications director Michael Jenkins says the possibility of shutting the clinic down is based on federal budget cuts, including sequestration, as well as a reorganization of the regional health consortium.

Ten percent of Front Street patients are Alaska Native. They can go to SEARHC’s Ethel Lund Medical Center if the clinic closes. Brewster doesn’t know where the others will go.

“We have a very small number of patients that do have full disability services; we’ll be able to find other doctors in town that can take them. The largest portion will end up with no medical care at all,” Brewster says.

Dentist Ed Linsell has been practicing at the clinic for nearly all ten years of its operation. He says Front Street staff members are determined to do what it takes it keep the clinic open.

One of the examination rooms at Front Street Clinic. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

One of the examination rooms at Front Street Clinic. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“I’m pretty outraged at how a whole population is going to be – they’re on the street to begin with but they’re going to be thrown out even deeper,” says Linsell.

The group of SEARHC employees has taken their fight to various people and organizations, including the Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness. Dan Austin is a founding member.

“We consider this to be the most important, immediate issue for us. And so we will play whatever role we possibly can to keep Front Street Clinic open, whatever it takes,” he says.

Austin says closing the centrally located Front Street Clinic would take away more than just medical services.

“It serves as one of the main portals in this community to link homeless people on the street to possible services that might be available to them to help make positive changes in their lives. It’s a critical doorway for us.”

Clinic manager Janna Brewster says it’s her duty to tell the patients about Front Street’s possible closure. As soon as patient James Bouschor heard, he immediately started a petition. Within a week, he already has 500 signatures.

“I’m going to try and gather as many signatures as I can because you know not only me who’s needed help, but people that require daily medications and stuff that won’t be able to get it if Front Street closes,” he says.

SEARHC’s Michael Jenkins says the Board of Directors will decide whether Front Street Clinic will stay open or shut down at an upcoming meeting.

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