Mary Lakes doesn't know if she still would be alive if it wasn't for the Homeless Health Care Center.
Alcoholic and sleeping under bridges in Chattanooga, Lakes found the clinic three years ago through the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, where the clinic was housed at the time.
There, she began receiving primary services and psychiatric care. Most important, she was able to enroll in a substance abuse program and got sober. She now works as a receptionist at the center,
"I know the work that they do is so full of love and compassion for other human beings. That is why this is such an exciting day," Lakes said, smiling through tears and holding one end of a ribbon that had been cut minutes before to celebrate the opening of a new clinic building.
The Homeless Health Care Center, which operates under the umbrella of the Hamilton County Health Department, is hoping to reach many more people like Lakes through the new clinic, which is set to start services Monday.
The project, in the works since 2010, was funded by a $2.7 million federal grant, Hamilton County officials said Wednesday.
"We are just so excited about the capacity we will be able to have in the new building," center director Karen Guinn said.
The new clinic is nearly twice the size of the old one, which was housed within the Community Kitchen for 21 years.
The new, 12,000-square-foot building across the street from the Community Kitchen has 12 patient rooms, boasts a spacious new lobby with large windows, and will offer in-house dental care -- a boon for the center, which has relied on mobile clinics and referrals in the past.
"Dental care is an enormous need for those in the homeless community," said Charlie Hughes, executive director of the Community Kitchen. "It connects to so many other health issues."
The clinic logs more than 20,000 patient visits per year for routine primary care, including preventive and chronic disease care, mental health care and substance abuse treatment.
The new clinic also will host the health department's homeless outreach programs.
Guinn said facility was designed to help foster an integrated form of care.
For instance, a patient who comes in with a toothache might reveal that she is divorced, newly homeless, and battling severe depression.
The nurse can contact a psychologist within the building who can help the patient talk through her new challenges. The center can connect the patient to long-term treatment as needed and hand her to a case manager who can work to find housing, determine insurance eligibility and help provide transportation to more services, among other things.
"We call it a 'wrap-around' form of service," said Guinn. "Because we are trying to meet their needs at many different levels here."
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6673.