SAN FRANCISCO — 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, one of the first of its kind in the nation, founder Dr. David Smith 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. She stayed here for a very long time and put all that up. It lasted as long as her LSD trip,” Smith said moving on to what was once called the “bad trip” room, where clinic staff would talk down clients during acid trips gone awry.
Fundamentally, Smith and others say, the organization has remained true to its counterculture roots, still offering free care in a deliberately nonjudgmental atmosphere.
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 in a wide range of programs, including “reentry” services to formerly incarcerated adults and teens, 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 San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.
It’s been a long journey from Smith’s early days running a standalone clinic.
An exam room at the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic in San Francisco, California. (Heidi de Marco/KHN) Miles Marker fills out his patient forms before seeing a doctor at the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic in San Francisco, Calif., on October 18, 2016. (Heidi de Marco/KHN) Patient Gary Bossier, 59, gathers his belonging after his exam at the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic in San Francisco, Calif., on October 18, 2016. (Heidi de Marco/KHN) David Hodges, 43, gets