David had served 26 years of a life sentence in Folsom State Prison when he was released on parole in February.
“It was a spectacular, miraculous experience,” he says of his time at Walden House, a five-story mansion-turned-residential facility on Hayes Street that helps the formerly incarcerated integrate back into society. “I was out, first of all. And the way they welcome you is ‘Hello, family,’ and ‘Welcome home.’ I walked in there wide-eyed, like a child. And they made my transition back to society very easy. But I also learned about things I still need to work on.”
Walden House is just one of a handful of mental- and physical-health organizations under the umbrella of HealthRIGHT 360, an integrated healthcare nonprofit that treats more than 38,000 people each year through Lyon-Martin, the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics, Asian American Recovery Services, Tenderloin Health Services and recently, the Women’s Community Clinic.
Its reach is multifaceted and multicultural, and it’s about to get bigger: This week, a five-story Integrated Care Center (ICC) opened on Mission Street and South Van Ness Avenue, more than doubling HealthRIGHT 360’s clinic space. Now, new patients can see physicians, dentists, addiction specialists, acupuncturists, and therapists without leaving the building. A computer lab, a closet full of interview clothes, housing and employment resources, and literary classes are also on site — so if someone needs to get a cavity filled and have someone look over a resume, they can do both in one visit. And the center offers a one-stop-shop for people like David, who needed assistance with reintegration, housing, finding a job, and psychological counseling.
“By offering integrated services all under one roof, we simplify access to care and reduce the compounding barriers preventing many from receiving vital services,” says HealthRIGHT 360 CEO Dr. Vitka Eisen.
For years, HealthRIGHT 360 had operated out of a large red building adjacent to a highway overpass on Mission Street at Duboce Avenue. But demand increased and the space grew tight. Around five years ago a search began for a new location. and 1563 Mission St. fit the bill. It was large and in a central area well-served by public transit, but it wasn’t vacant or for sale. Undeterred, the team met with the building’s owner, who’d been renting it out for clothing manufacturing, despite receiving multi-million dollar offers from developers. In 2014, a deal was finalized, and over the next three years, the building was seismically upgraded and completely renovated to accommodate everything from offices for infectious disease specialists to private family counseling rooms.
The project was not cheap, and truly took a village to build: $51 million came from a 2016 New Market Tax Credit Allocation, and a capital campaign raised $6 million. Local corporations — Kaiser, Ramsell and Sutter Health/CPMC — donated a few million. Twenty-one private gifts ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 were granted for the space.
The fundraising paid off: Each facet of the new, 50,000-square-foot ICC has been carefully considered. It’s a green building, earning LEED Gold Certified status. Bright red walls and an open atrium greet clients as they walk in. The design is modern and spacious, but not cold — plants and comfy sofas decorate the waiting rooms.
While the decor is comforting, it’s the services that really impress. The dental clinic, for example, is new.
“We know that dental health is linked to improved health outcomes for all of us,” Eisen says. “Our clients have not often had access to good dental care. But we also see it as a part of human dignity. If you have bad teeth, it’s hard to get a job. It’s hard to go to your kid’s parent-teacher conference and not feel embarrassment or shame. When you invest in dental care, you’re helping lift people’s lives in so many ways.”
As part of its integrated-care package, each new client is assigned a team of healthcare professionals, who work together to ensure that all treatment plans — be they addiction services, mental-health counseling, or social work — are done in conjunction with one another.
“Typically, our patients have complex needs,” Eisen explains. “Overall, about 80 percent of our patients are not safely or stably housed. Their situations can be complicated.”
Stephanie was one of those patients. In April 2016, she was pregnant, living in a tent in a homeless encampment on Shotwell Street. Homeless Prenatal pulled Stephanie and her boyfriend, John Visor, who has since died, off the streets and set them up at the Mission Street Navigation Center. When she gave birth to her son on June 1, he was taken by Child Protective Services, who gave her 20 days to enter a residential recovery center. If she succeeded, she’d continue to have parenting rights. If not, he’d be surrendered for adoption.
“I couldn’t let that happen,” she said. “I’d already lost one of my children — my third son — to adoption. It was pretty much time to put on my big-girl pants. I walked into HealthRIGHT, and I wanted to leave. I thought about it, but I knew I couldn’t.”
Stephanie worked with a number of teams to get back on her feet. After hopping around different rehabilitation and temporary housing situations, she finally qualified for Section 8 housing this month. Child Protective Services wrapped up her case, and she regained custody of her son. She got a job with the Clean City Coalition and has reunited with her extended family out of state. She has a sober sponsor and now plans on taking college classes online to become an addiction counselor. And Stephanie has just filled out an application for a job at Women’s HOPE — another HealthRIGHT 360 program, which helps low-income women and mothers manage their mental health and find help for addiction.
“I have so many people who are for me, and still help me to this day,” she says. “They’ve never given up on me. I’m so lucky, and I’m glad I finally woke up and started realizing it.”
“She’s an absolute miracle,” said her former sponsor Nancy, who was influential in getting Stephanie off the street. “I didn’t have a lot of hope for you in the beginning.”
“The hardest part was just stopping [drug use],” Stephanie says. “Putting it down and making that commitment for a better life. But everyone deserves that life. If I can do it, anyone can do it.”
Stephanie is the poster child for HealthRIGHT 360, but she is just one of many with complicated situations who will walk through the doors of the ICC each day.
“I often talk about us being a beacon of hope, a reminder that San Francisco is still committed,” Eisen says. “It still has people that are vulnerable, and those people are welcome here — right here — where we are. Inside and out, the ICC embodies dignity, character, hope, and the transformative power of good care.”