Emily Harrington talking to a guest of Blanchet House in the Harrington Health Clinic.

Emily Harrington talking to a resident of Blanchet House in the Harrington Health Clinic.

Harrington Health Clinic at Blanchet House

By Julie Showers

The Harrington Health Clinic (HHC) located on the first floor of Blanchet House is a nurse-led primary care clinic. Emily Harrington, a registered nurse and Blanchet House board member, founded the clinic in 2020 with partners Dr. Kelly Fox, RN, and the University of Portland (UP).

The 126-foot exam room might be the smallest health care clinic in Portland. Nurses staffing the clinic provide primary care, health and wellness, palliative care, and telemedicine services to the residents of Blanchet House and people experiencing homelessness. They can also refer patients to the Veterans of America (VOA) for behavioral and mental health services.

As the first female board president of Blanchet House, Harrington believed the organization’s mission to “transform lives with dignity and compassion” should include health and well-being.

“People who don’t have the best relationship with the health care system have a lot of fear and trepidation,” Harrington says. “Because they haven’t accessed care in so long there might be something big and scary that requires a lot of care. There is a lot of shame and embarrassment. It takes social visits and relationship building until they might ask you to address a medical need. I want to help build these guys up and let them know that they are worthy of care.” 

It was Fox who encouraged the two nurses to create an open-door policy with no agenda in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It would be an opportunity to build rapport with the residents and help get lapsed prescriptions filled.

Nurse Amber stands in the door way of the HHC

Nurse Amber Vermeesch stands in the doorway of the HHC. Photo by Scott Kerman.

“We let the guys know that there is someone here to listen,” Harrington explains. “We leave room for walk-ins. It helps to build trust. You often don’t see that in medical care because it’s usually mechanized and impersonal.” 

In addition to providing care to at-risk and underserved individuals, the clinic offers undergraduate nursing students from UP a hands-on learning opportunity that will help them complete clinical hours under the supervision of a registered nurse. They’ve already gotten to work by holding a pop-up flu vaccination clinic for the meal guests of Blanchet House in Oct. 2020 located in the adjacent parking lot. Student nurses offered vaccinations to lunch guests many of whom are experiencing homelessness or lack access to healthcare. HHC nurses will hold a pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinic in May for people living unsheltered in Portland’s Old Town along with Blanchet House’s meal guests and residents.

With this new clinic, Blanchet House is able to better carry out its mission to aid the health and wellness of people in need.

A Safe Space

Every new resident of Blanchet House meets with a nurse in the clinic to do an in-take assessment of their medical needs. It’s not uncommon for new residents, many coming out of detox or off the street, to say that they have no health concerns. This is where relationship building is so important.

During an intake, a new resident said he felt like nothing was wrong with him. He would walk by the clinic on his way to work in the kitchen and Emily was able to establish a rapport. A few weeks later he explained that when he was experiencing homelessness he kept his belongings in his car including his mental health medications. They were stolen when his car was broken into. 

A student nurse from the University of Portland administers a flu vaccine to a meal guest in the Blanchet House parking lot, Oct. 2020.

A student nurse from the University of Portland administers a flu vaccine to a meal guest in the Blanchet House parking lot, Oct. 2020. Photo by Julie Showers.

“He’d been off of his medications for 3-4 months and they were for anxiety and depression,” Harrington recalls. “I met with him every two to three weeks and we had him try a few types of medications. Before he left Blanchet House I was able to give him a 30 day supply.” 

We too often take health issues that require more than one step for granted. For people struggling to meet their most basic needs adding a prescription, lab work, and follow-ups can be overwhelming.

“There is a bit of endurance required for that,” Harrington says. “Our guests with acute chronic issues often need someone to walk them down to the pharmacy to check that the prescribed medication is in stock and available. Having a presence on-site for some of those needs is really great for these individuals. I want the clinic to be that place where they hear yes.”