On the ground in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

Bread for the City's expanded clinic: Nicer than your doctor's office?

December 13, 2010 - 05:30 PM
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Bread for the City
One of 13 new medical clinic exam rooms at Bread for the City's 7th Street NW facility. Nice, right? (Photo: TBD Staff)

A couple of things immediately jump out at you when touring around Bread for the City's recently expanded medical clinic on 7th St. NW, which is, as of last week, now up and running (a formal dedication is scheduled for Jan. 7). For one, the sheer amount of waiting room space now available to the service provider's clients compared to the old facility is staggering. What used to be three chairs crammed into a hallway is now three gleaming, remarkably spacious waiting areas with dozens upon dozens of seats, not to mention a separate play area for kids.

And for another, the clinic itself has to be one of the nicest doctor's offices in town. With more than a dozen state-of-the-art exam rooms outfitted with all brand new stuff, it feels more like an expensive private practice than a free clinic for the city's most vulnerable residents.

"It's really an amazing improvement," says Bread for the City spokesman Greg Bloom, who notes that the expanded waiting room areas alone are able to provide a lot more dignity to the organization's clients, many of whom come to discuss sensitive topics with social workers or legal aide staff. And "the vibe in the medical clinic is way, way less stressful for everyone involved" now, he says.

The $6.8 million expansion will also, more importantly, allow Bread for the City to start serving new patients for the first time in at least a year. The organization previously had to cut off new clinic patients due to space constraints, Bloom says, in order to be able to continue to serve the 2,600 individuals who were already seeing Bread for the City doctors each year. Now, the non-profit expects that number to be able to more than double. And within about a year, they also hope to expand their services to include dental and vision, which executive director George Jones describes as "two of the great unmet healthcare needs of low-income D.C. residents."

With more clients, though, comes the potential for increased tension between Bread for the City and its neighbors. It's become common over the years to see complaints on neighborhood email lists about loitering outside the facility, which acts as a multi-purpose service dispensary — food pantry, clothing bank, medical clinic, and legal and social services — though as Bloom points out, a lot of the time nearby residents don't distinguish between Bread for the City clients and the people who hang out at the laundromat next door. Not to mention, loitering is not against the law. But Bloom says he's certainly spent some time meeting with neighbors and ANC commissioners on the issue, and it remains to be seen how the expansion might affect neighborhood relations. Maybe those huge new waiting rooms will actually alleviate some of the pressure? "We'll have to see how that goes," Bloom says. "The waiting rooms are certainly designed as a comfortable place for Bread for the City clients who are waiting for services, but not for people just to hang out," he says.

Bread for the City recently announced that it had surpassed its capital campaign goal for the construction of the new facility, but it's still not too late to contribute. If you make a donation of at least $500 by Wednesday, Dec. 15, your name will be included in a commemorative display in the main hallway of the new building.

As for that ribbon cutting ceremony, everyone is invited to the party, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 7. Just RSVP to rsvp@breadforthecity.org.

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