Closing of India Street clinic draws opponents to Finance Committee budget hearing.
by Luke deNatale
The Portland Finance Committee held a budget hearing on April, 21st to discuss budget increases for the library and Information Technology office, and the potential closure of the India Street public health clinic.
The Portland Public library saw a small budget increase.
“Our biggest cost item this year is our salary increase, it’s a 4% increase over last year… we are maintaining our FTE [full-time employee] count at 54 FTE’s. We have a number of temps that are working at minimum wage levels, and as you know, that has increased as of January 1st,” said George Cooper, Finance Director for the library.
The total amount requested for the library is $143,000, according to Mr. Cooper.
Brendan O’Connell, City of Portland Finance Director explained that $75,000 was being dedicated to upgrading the cities human resources and finance software.
Dan Boutilier, Director of Information Technology, confirmed that part of the old human resources and finance software had been around since the 1970’s.
The greatest portion of time for the budget hearing was dedicated to the discussion of the closure of the India Street Public Health Center.
The committee amended the closure of the clinic so that the STD/HIV testing and needle exchange programs would be available at India Street until June 30th, 2017.
The health care services for HIV-positive patients would be transferred to private nonprofit Portland Community Health Center by the end of the year.
Many supporters of the India Street clinic appeared with signs. Some reading, “We Support India Street!”
Others read: “Transition – my foot!” – a protestation against the proposed transition of services to Portland Community Health Clinic.
Some of the more poignant commentary came from the supporters, who were so numerous many had to be moved to the upper portion of the City Council Chambers.
Michael Anthony, director of the Homeless Solidarity Project explained that many of the homeless people his group works with would be heavily impacted by the transition of services and eventual closure of the India Street clinic.
“The people that I work with on the streets in Portland, a lot of them depend on India Street health clinic, they are not served very well by Portland Community Health Clinic… I personally have been turned away from Portland Community Health Clinic, I’m not sure why, they asked if I had Maine Care, I said ‘No’, they told me to go to India Street. That happened last year.”
Leslie Clark, CEO of Portland Community Health Center, who had just previously given testimony, silently shook her head and said, “Not true.”
A profound comment on the transition came from Portland resident Chris Berkley.
“As a gay man who has lived in many bigger cities, a clinic is where you receive most of your primary care because primary care physicians often don’t feel comfortable having conversations about the health issues we encounter. So when I moved to Portland I was surprised and happy to find out there was a clinic such as India Street… I’m hearing a lot about transitioning patients and it’s so impersonal. This is personal. It affects a lot of us.”
Following the Finance Committee budget hearing, Spencer Thibodeau, City Councilor for District 2, commented to the West End News on the transition process.
“My greatest focus on this whole thing is to make sure there is actually a transfer of services, that’s what is most important to me. I’ve got a lot of constituents that use this health clinic. I want to make sure we are doing this in a thoughtful way.”