Share story

Harborview Medical Center is planning to move its primary-care clinics out of the hospital and into local communities. Officials say that will not jeopardize a long-standing commitment to serve vulnerable patients.

Debra Gussin, associate administrator for ambulatory care, said the medical center has embarked on a strategic planning process to explore how care can best be provided in the new world of health care.

Ideally, care would not only be financially sustainable for the hospital — which provided $213 million of charity care last year — it also would better meet the needs of patients in the communities where they live, Gussin said.

More than 80 percent of Harborview’s primary-care patients today don’t live in the hospital’s neighborhood, Gussin said, while the Affordable Care Act contemplates a more patient-centered, community-oriented type of primary care. “We have to change and adapt,” she said.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Several staff and faculty members who attended internal meetings about the change, which has been contemplated for years, said they were concerned that dispersing the primary-care clinics that now operate at the hospital would dilute the multiprovider model that helps such patients, many of whom are immigrants or refugees with language barriers, difficult living situations or multiple, complex health issues.

Such patients are often assisted not only by health-care providers but also by interpreters, social workers, nutritionists and even legal aides to address related issues that can affect their health or ability to access care.

Possible new locations for the primary-care clinics have not been identified, nor is there a plan on how to provide the services Harborview does now, Gussin said.

“This is very early on in the planning process,” she said.

The pediatric clinic, which serves about 2,500 patients, was identified as the first clinic that would move.

People who attended meetings said the pediatric clinic was given a deadline of July 1, but Gussin said that date was given only because it is a typical time for major changes, as new residents come in. She said there is no hard decision to move by that time.

“We certainly do not want to alarm our patients,” she said. “We’re committed to care for these patients.”

Carol M. Ostrom: or 206-464-2249. On Twitter @costrom

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.