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Harborview Considers Closing Some Clinics For Poor

“Abruptly and brutally.”

That’s how Dr. Abe Bergman described the announcement by administrators to close some of the clinics at Harborview Medical Center. He said staff members were told that some of the primary care clinics housed at the hospital would close in July.

Each clinic sees more than 2,000 patients every year, many of whom are uninsured or on Medicaid.

“There’s been discussion of it over the years,” said Bergman, Harborview’s former chief of pediatrics. He now volunteers at the hospital as a physician.

“Harborview is a special kind of place,” Bergman said. “We serve a very high proportion of refugee patients, so we have interpreters. … We specialize with social workers in poverty medicine.”

Bergman said Harborview staff learned before the holidays that some clinics would close in July. They were upset, he said. He said he’s frustrated but said he understands why this discussion is happening – he just hopes any decision is well thought out.

Harborview administrator Debra Gussin told KUOW there are no definite plans to close the clinics, however.

“There are no specific plans at this point other than making sure we’re keeping up and doing things in way that makes the most sense,” Gussin, associate administrator of ambulatory care, said. “We’re engaging in the strategic planning process – that’s what we’re up to at this point.”

But Gussin did say it’s time for Harborview to consider other options. She said it’s expensive to deliver primary care in the hospital. And it might not be best for patients.

“Eighty to eighty-five percent of our patients no longer really live in the Harborview neighborhood,” she said.

“Many of our patients live quite far away. It takes them hours or several buses to get here. So if we’re really trying to be more responsive and more relevant in the community, we need to ask ourselves how we can really go to where our patients are and really work more closely with them and partner in our communities to deliver that part of care.”

Gussin said Harborview administrators are looking at other options to save money and care for their patients.

Bergman and other physicians said this is likely the beginning of big changes.

“We have a very honorable mission, and that is to take care of the unfortunates in the community. And those of us who work here are here because of the mission of Harborview. We’ve made our careers here based on that.”