Chelsea health clinic’s makeover is modern — and delayed



Architect’s redesign of the Chelsea District Health Center. Photo: Stephen Yablon Architecture.

The windows at the Chelsea District Health Center have been boarded up for months. The sounds of hammers still hitting walls is a jarring note, given the expectation that the nearly 3-year, $17 million gut renovation was planned for a September completion. That date has now been moved to later this fall.

CDHC, a sexual health clinic at 303 Ninth Avenue in Chelsea, experienced construction delays early on after it was discovered in March 2015 that an extensive asbestos abatement was necessary. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene closed the facility, moving CDHC staff to the city’s other STD clinics. But the temporary arrangements, according to community activists, have not been adequate.

It took three months for DOHMH to set up two mobile vans outside the Chelsea clinic after LGBT and HIV/AIDs advocates protested the closure, fearing that vital care would suddenly be unavailable from the city’s most heavily used sexual health clinic. CDHC provides emergency contraception, low-to-no-cost services including STI and HIV testing, vaccines for HPV and hepatitis, and post- and pre-exposure prophylaxis – the latter, a daily pill that has been found to greatly reduce risk of HIV infection.

The mobile units offer full service STD treatment and diagnosis on a limited basis: one van is set up for concierge services to direct patients to other clinics; the other operates with one doctor and one nurse on call and can accommodate no more than three patients at a time. Prior to the renovation, CDHC totaled nearly 400 visitors weekly. Since the closure, foot traffic at the vans has dropped to less than 50 people per week.

“It’s difficult to document the impact the mobile units have had on services provided to the community,” said Jeremiah Johnson, community engagement coordinator for Treatment Action Group, an activist-based think tank for HIV and STD treatment and awareness.

Johnson said that the Chelsea clinic overwhelmingly serves people of color and transgender communities. “We know that a lot of people were coming from other parts of the city because these services are so stigmatized you don’t want to attend the STD clinic that is in your neighborhood,” he added.

The new 24,000 square-foot clinic will offer all the same services but in a modernized space.

Andrew Miller, associate partner at Stephen Yablon Architecture and chief architect for the project, explained that efficiency and durability were directives from the city’s Department of Design and Construction.  Among the upgrades, Miller said, are “energy-efficient lighting and windows, low-flow plumbing, recycled steel and wood fixtures, and easy to clean porcelain floors.”

Julien Martinez, assistant press secretary at DOHMH, said in an email, “The Chelsea Sexual Health Clinic will provide the same services that are available at all sexual health clinics. The renovation provides additional space for express screening visits, where patients without symptoms can get tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, or HIV without having to see a doctor.”

In 2016, Chelsea was the New York City neighborhood with the highest number of reported cases of male chlamydia, gonorrhea, and male primary and secondary syphilis, according to a report by the Bureau for Sexually Transmitted Disease Control.

As of 2015, the number of reported cases of HIV in the five boroughs was 2,493, according to the HIV Surveillance Annual Report. DOHMH said the new state-of-the-art medical clinic in Chelsea is designed to help reduce those numbers by providing a space that supports the city’s “Ending the Epidemic” initiative, a plan to reduce the number of new HIV infections in New York City to 600 by 2020.

SYA and the DDC declined to comment on budget costs of the lagging renovation. AT an Oct. 4 clinic walk-through for sexual health advocates, DDC announced that construction should end later this month, with a clinic reopening date closer to mid-February, 2018.