UPMC Second Avenue Health Center Provides Low-Barrier Care

By: Marquel Jackson

Nestled in Pittsburgh under the shadow of the well-travelled Liberty Bridge, Second Avenue Commons, a new 43,000-square-foot, year-round shelter, has been offering food, respite and other resources to the community since November 2022. Inside the shelter is the UPMC Second Avenue Commons Health Center, providing low-barrier primary care services to those in need. 

“UPMC was one of the first to commit to this project several years ago with an initial $5 million in-kind service,” said Sherri Mackall, director of Clinical Care Coordination and Discharge Planning and Capacity at UPMC Mercy. “We frequently look for opportunities for some of our patients who have few resources to discharge them safely after hospitalization, so that’s how Mercy got tapped on the shoulder.” 

Dr. Anita Leon-Jhong

Mackall, tasked with helping to build the clinic, including finding the appropriate services and staff. travelled to Portland, Ore., to learn from experts who run homeless services, shelters and walk-in-clinics. When the UPMC Second Avenue Health Center was ready to be staffed, Mackall tapped Anita Leon-Jhong, M.D., clinical professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh to become the clinic’s medical director. 

“Those staying in the shelter, as well as people who come in off the street, are provided services, including a full complement of primary care., treatment of acute and chronic medical diseases, behavioral health therapy, and referrals to care and treatment for substance use disorder, including opioid use disorder,” Leon-Jhong explained. Patients at the clinic may be prescribed buprenorphine, treated for hepatitis C, screened for sexually transmitted diseases, or provided gynecologic and basic care.  

The clinic has received more than 600 visits and at least 200 patients who came through the door of Second Avenue Commons since its opening. Over 40 prescription glasses have been ordered in partnership with One Sight Foundation. 

“It can be very difficult to access care, so the purpose of this clinic is to make it as easy as possible for people,” Leon-Jhong said. “The shelter is low barrier the clinic is low barrier.” 

The clinic also has a full-time administrative assistant to greet patients and help with follow-up appointments and transportation plans, in addition to a full-time nurse and behavioral therapist. 

“Medical and psychiatric issues often intertwine,” explains Justin Grotelueschen, behavioral health therapist at UPMC Second Avenue Commons Health Center, who works full time at the clinic. “People come in with a lot of traumas in their lives. I’m working mostly on being a stabilizing force for people. Mental health support is a hard thing to access if you’re living this type of lifestyle, not just from an insurance standpoint, but a logistical standpoint as well. I feel very privileged to sit with people and help them at least approach some of the things in their lives that they’ve been struggling with for a very long time.” 

The clinic is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., including for those without insurance. Walk-ins are accepted for follow-ups and other procedures.  

Journalists interested in learning more can contact mediarelations@upmc.edu.