SMWC Joins Call for Portland to #SaveIndiaStreet
Health Care is a Human Right. This is an undisputable truth. Yet, we live in a nation and a state that daily denies people access to necessary and quality health care services, based primarily on income. The Southern Maine Workers’ Center (SMWC) organizes for a truly universal, publicly-funded health care system that honors our human rights. We need to create a lasting, people-powered solution to our health care crisis. This struggle can’t move forward unless we continue the fight to maintain and expand the few supports that currently exist to help poor and working class people of Maine. This is why we, like so many others, have called for the expansion of Medicaid, and it is why we speak today in solidarity with the local movement to save the India Street Public Health Center.
The city budget proposal before Portland’s city council includes a plan to defund India Street and “transition services” and patient load to the Portland Community Health Center (PCHC). The Health Care is a Human Right campaign of the SMWC has studied the proposed budget, and we have listened to members who use India Street, providers who care for patients there, and city officials advocating for this change. Our conclusion is clear: this proposal is irresponsible and anti-poor. We urge Portland’s city councilors to vote down this aspect of the proposed city budget for the following reasons:
• Lacking proper participation or support from India Street’s clients: Participation and transparency are two of the human rights principles that guide all of SMWC’s organizing. The proposed defunding of the India Street Public Health Center was undertaken without deep involvement of patients, clients, providers and community members directly impacted. While city officials have expressed a commitment to caring for residents most in need, the cries for maintaining India Street in its current form have been ignored in this proposal. Clients have spoken to the media and in public forums about the life-saving care they receive at India Street, and what a toll it will take on their community if it is defunded. We are in solidarity with those who are poor/low-income, living with addiction, and those who are HIV+ in our city. We hear their concerns and trust their certainty that closing India Street will negatively impact their lives.
• Significant doubt that the transition will not result in loss of services: City officials claim to support the elimination of “duplication of services,” but we stand unconvinced that services currently provided by the staff of India Street are, in fact, being duplicated. There is no doubt that India Street meets the needs of community members who would otherwise go without care. Based on conversations with members of the India Street community as well as attendance at the latest meeting of the city’s Finance Committee, we are also skeptical that services would be adequately delivered by the new configuration of care outlined in the City Manager’s budget proposal. India Street as it currently exists, provides an integrated experience, with a Needle Exchange, STD testing and harm reduction counseling, as well as comprehensive care for HIV+ patients, and primary care. This all occurs in one building with providers who have worked hard to build trust with clients. PCHC and the City Manager currently have no solid plan for the relocation of the Needle Exchange to a venue that would not present new barriers for clients. Furthermore, the splitting up of various services across different sites and providers, as well as the inevitable loss of some trusted India Street staff, is extremely likely to deter some current patients from transferring successfully to PCHC. The likelihood that members of our community will slip through the cracks of this system makes this decision a matter of life and death for some.
• Public Health not Privatization!: The transfer of services away from a public health model over to a private non-profit signal yet another step in a dangerous national trend away from funding, sustaining, and protecting public goods, and into a highly privatized future of uncertain ‘health’ for our communities. The argument has been made that a federally qualified health center like the PCHC answers to a board of patient representatives to which PCHC will be accountable. The truth is that, regardless of the quality of care PCHC may be capable of providing, if the City of Portland completes a transition of services, it would no longer be responsible for ensuring high quality care. The people who access India Street currently, and neighbors who care about one another’s quality of health, would no longer have any say. Our votes would cease to matter. Although City Manager Jon Jennings stated in last week’s Finance Committee meeting that he “can guarantee a successful transition,” there will be no public mechanism for holding him, the city council, and the mayor accountable if the transition fails India Street’s patients. Additionally, privatization eliminates good union jobs and replaces them with non-union ones, thus weakening our workforce. The shift to privatization harms the most vulnerable in our communities, including workers.
For all of the above reasons, the SMWC supports keeping the India Street Public Health Center open. We do so in solidarity with our members and neighbors whose voices are most often excluded or ignored in matters of deciding public policy and budgets. We also urge our members to join the movement to #SaveIndiaStreet and take action in the following ways:
1.Call or email city council members and Mayor Ethan Strimling.
2. Write and submit Letters to the Editor to local publications.
3. Join a rally at 12 pm in Monument Square on Sunday, May 1st to gather momentum before the city council hearing on May 2nd.
4. Attend the public hearing on May 2nd at 5 pm at City Hall, second floor. Testify if you feel moved!