Clients and staff of Multnomah County’s primary care clinics gathered Wednesday to celebrate National Health Center Week with stories, art and snacks.
The County’s Community Health Centers deliver medical, dental and pharmacy services at seven primary care centers, eight Student Health Centers and the HIV Health Services Center. The division's 615 employees logged 249,000 visits with 64,000 clients last year and filled 362,000 prescriptions.
“Our clinics continue to pioneer innovative approaches to care management,” said clinical director Vanetta Abdellatif, “including partnerships with public health teams to extend care for new moms at home, incorporating art as a way to engage with your care team, prescribing fruits and vegetables as medicine, and offering vaccination opportunities at our dental locations.”
This year’s celebration theme was Rooted in Community, and no clinic embodies that intention more than the County HIV Health Services Center, which provides comprehensive medical treatment, nursing care and social services to people living with HIV and AIDS.
“I have been a nurse for a really long time but working at a community health center is the favorite part of my career,” said clinic manager Toni Kempner. “We serve the best folks in the world.”
In March the clinic launched a Rapid Start antiretroviral program, providing viral-suppressing drugs to new clients immediately upon diagnosis. A person with HIV cannot pass that virus on to someone else when that virus is suppressed to an undetectable level.
Since March, the clinic has diagnosed 25 new clients. Within four weeks, 16 of those clients had an undetectable viral load.
Clients can get antiretrovirals as quickly as 20 minutes after they come to the clinic. They see a provider and a case manager, and receive wraparound services.
“We’re like the Fred Meyer of HIV care,” Kempner said. “We’re working hard to provide that. It empowers people to be part of their health and that’s what community health centers do. We’re partners in their health.”
Members of client advisory boards also spoke, including Raymond Petit.
Petit was diagnosed with HIV while living in Seattle, and he said he received his care from a renowned university HIV clinic. But the care felt impersonal. It felt as though no one was listening.
“I was left feeling the system didn’t want to spend the time, money or effort to ensure my health was optimal,” he said Wednesday. Hoping for better care and a fresh start, Petit moved to Portland with a T-cell count hovering near 70 (a healthy count is above 500) and unable to afford housing.
He found that better care at Multnomah County’s HIV clinic, he said. His provider prescribed the latest treatments and his T-cells climbed to 500. His viral load has been undetectable for years.
“That’s the benefit from receiving care from a facility dedicated to keeping current on the latest care, and I’m grateful for it,” he said. “The experience here is like night and day. It’s a real difference in how care is delivered, professionally with the feel of a small local doctor’s office.”
As visitors filled plates with salsa-topped tamales, crispy fried cassava and sticky sweet plantains, others toured the new offices of the HIV clinic, joined in a group art project begun by clinic patients or gathered to chat with old friends.
Petit sat down next to fellow clinic patient and advisory board member, Warren Scott. The New York transplant was diagnosed with HIV in 1986. At points in the past 30 years, Scott has been a client at HIV clinics in Texas, California and now at the County’s HIV clinic.
“The thing I like most,” he said of the county clinic, is “they’re like family.”