September 21, 2017

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Haight Ashbury's Free Health Clinic: Middle-Aged And Still Groovy

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A large collage decorates a wall of one exam room at the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic in San Francisco, Calif. Dr. David Smith, founder of the clinic, says patients and staff call the mural the Psychedelic Wall of Fame. Heidi de Marco/Kaiser Health News hide caption

toggle caption Heidi de Marco/Kaiser Health News

Since it opened 50 years ago, the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic has been a refuge — for everyone from flower children to famous rock stars to Vietnam War veterans returning home addicted to heroin.

Strolling through the clinic halls in San Francisco, Dr. David Smith, the medical organization’s founder, points to a large collage that decorates a wall of an exam room affectionately referred to as the Psychedelic Wall of Fame. The 1967 relic shows a kaleidoscope of images of Jefferson Airplane and other legendary counterculture bands floating in a dreamscape of creatures, nude goddesses, peace symbols and large loopy letters.

“That was made by a woman who had just taken LSD,” Smith says. “She stayed here for a very long time and put all that up. It lasted as long as her LSD trip.” He continues on to what was once called the “bad trip” room, where clinic staff would talk clients down during acid trips gone awry.

Fundamentally, Smith and others say, the organization has remained true to its roots in counterculture, still offering free care in a deliberately nonjudgmental atmosphere.

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But it is also drastically different: It is now the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics — plural — and part of a multi-million-dollar conglomerate with the decidedly un-hippie name of HealthRIGHT360.

All told, HealthRIGHT 360 serves approximately 40,000 patients each year via a wide range of programs, including reentry services to ease the transition of formerly incarcerated adults and teens into life outside jail, residential and outpatient drug treatment, mental health care and medical and dental care. In 2014, it purchased a 50,000-square-foot building at 1563 Mission Street in San Francisco as additional space, to offer all of these services under one roof. The organization also serves patients in neighboring San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

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Jeremy Cortez, a patient at the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinics, checked in with a doctor there last fall to get treatment

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