Four years after planning began on renovations to the North Portland Health Center, staff, clients and guests gathered Friday to celebrate the finished space.
“Welcome. Welcome. Welcome,” Vanetta Abdellatif, Multnomah County’s director of Integrated Clinical Services said to those who turned out at the St. Johns facility for food, music and fun. “Thank you. Thank you for helping us get here, and to the staff who stuck through it.”
Dr. Robert Henriques, who has practiced at the clinic since 2012, said the last year of construction was stressful, shuffling clients between exam rooms. “The planning was excellent, it was fantastic, and it was still hard,” he said. “Now we have more patient rooms, more flexibility. And having a dental clinic here, that would be huge.”
The project, which began in 2015, cost $4.5 million — including $935,000 from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. It expands primary care and pharmacy services to an additional 2,400 patients in North and Northeast Portland, with eight additional exam rooms and space for a future dental clinic. The pharmacy was moved to a more central and secure location on the second floor, and updated the flooring and paint everywhere.
“It makes people feel like we want their business,” Henriques said. “We don’t just expect them to come here because they have to.”
Tanya Cherones welcomes the chance to celebrate a place that, she says, has made her feel welcome and wanted.
“This place is awesome,” she said. Cherones has suffered migraines since she was 14. Now in her early 60s, she’s also had a series of strokes. She’s seen a lot of doctors, and so often they seemed rushed and impersonal, she said. But when she came to the North Portland Health Center five years ago, the staff were different.
“They know who you are. I’m not judged in any way,” she said. “Here they have responsibilities. They’re busy. But they will talk to you. Today I walked in with a migraine. I didn’t have an appointment, and they saw me. Maybe I waited 20 minutes.”
Cherones has made friends with other clients. She joins in a free weekly yoga class offered in partnership with Living Yoga. And she helps organize a weekly walking group (with an occasional stop at the local bagel shop) followed by a craft circle. And she’s a member of a client advisory group that gives feedback to clinic leadership.
“If there are issues the clients will recommend changes,” she said. “And they listen.”
Jon Cole, a fellow member of the advisory group, said the health center staff changed his life.
“Without the kind words from people here, I don’t know where I’d be,” he told those gathered Friday. “I’m so lucky to be a client here. The staff is like family. This is what a community health center should strive to be.”