Downtown Clinic receives major — and attractive — transformation

Sunday, May 22, 2011 at 10:05pm

The new look of the United Neighborhood Health Services Downtown Clinic — everything from the materials used to the color schemes to the lighting — is meant to be calm and soothing. It should be, given that its patients have lives that are anything but.

“Life on the streets is traumatic,” said Bill Friskics-Warren, UNHS director of homeless services, when asked about the concepts to transform the facility from an outdated and even depressing space to one that is pleasant and functional. 

Nashville-based Smith Gee Studio handled design work for the clinic, which just reopened and joins another updated member of its neighborhood, Room In the Inn. 

“Transformation is probably a better word than renovation to describe the changes the Downtown Clinic has undergone,” Friskics-Warren said. “The space has been completely reconfigured to improve not just patient care, but the entire patient experience — comfort, aesthetics, etc. — as well.”

Prior to renovation work, the clinic served 40 patients per day on average. The facility will now be able to accommodate about 60. 

Located at 526 Eighth Ave. S. and straddling a gritty, old-school railroad bridge, the clinic received its half-million-dollar facelift courtesy of $450,000 from the Federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act and $50,000 from the Metro Development and Housing Agency, which owns the building. Finishing touches — including an exterior paint job — are still to come. 

In 2010, the Downtown Clinic served some 3,900 homeless people, a major undertaking given that many have multiple chronic conditions. In addition to primary services, the clinic provides mental health services, psychiatric and substance abuse treatment.

UNHS, a nonprofit agency, began operating the facility in late 2008, taking over for the Metro Health Department. With all the change came stress, to be sure, but folks have managed, Friskics-Warren said. 

“Navigating health care systems is difficult enough,” he said, “but when you’re not sure when your medical home is going to be reopened, that takes a lot of communication and persistence on everyone’s part.”