Harborview staff lobby hospital officials to keep community clinics on First Hill
Harborview Medical Center’s nurses and social workers are worried their employer plans to close its community medical clinics, which serve homeless and low-income people.
Harborview officials told The Seattle Times in December that the clinics needed to move off site and into local communities, likely by July of 2014. This was to shift care into communities in alignment with provisions of the Affordable Care Act, they said.
Hospital officials later backpedaled, claiming that there are no plans in the works to end the services.
“There is no intent to discontinue any services,” Lee Ann Prielipp, president of Harborview’s Board of Trustees, told Real Change on Jan. 23.
Yet staff members are convinced that the hospital intends to discontinue the clinics and push patients out to existing University of Washington community clinics. UW does not have many locations in Southeast Seattle or South King County.
The board has chosen its words carefully, never uttering the word “close,” said Kimela Vigil, a mental health practitioner at Harborview’s women’s clinic.
“They’re avoiding that word, but everything they say indicates that the clinics will not be here physically,” she said.
At a Jan. 23 meeting of the hospital’s board of trustees, Harborview staff members pleaded with hospital officials to keep the women’s, pediatric and family medicine programs at Harborview Medical Center’s campus on First Hill, which accept Medicare and Medicaid, and provide free care as needed.
Vigil told the board that the clinics provide culturally competent care to thousands of patients, including homeless and low-income people. Harborview’s announcement in December that the clinics could be moved or closed caused alarm and grief among the clinic staff, she said.
“I feel that it is important for Harborview to provide clear, transparent information to the community, to us,” Vigil said, but as it stands the group assumes that the change means “ending services on the hill.”
Clinic workers say the closure would end an important resource for patients who live in Southeast Seattle and South King County. The clinics provide a unique service, co-locating primary care clinics and specialty clinics on the same site as a hospital and emergency room.
“It’s just such a comprehensive way of caring for patients,” said Nasra Osman, a social worker in Harborview’s pediatric clinic.
Taking the clinics elsewhere would split up the services into several neighborhood clinics.
Four people in the pediatric and women’s clinic have already found work elsewhere, Vigil said, assuming that the clinics will be gone.
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