By Adrienne Schutte, Communications Specialist, Northwest Human Services
“Rumors, crisis information, or just plain rapping” the poster touting the Switchboard for Help’s services is hand drawn—faded blue on a white background, yellowed with age. It is complete with a peace sign and art nouveau inspired illustrations—signs of the times in 1970 when the Switchboard for Help opened for business in Salem. The Switchboard for Help was first established to provide resource information to those flocking to Oregon for the much-anticipated Vortex Music Festival. A surprising majority of the calls, however, were from people who just needed someone to talk to—to “just plain rap.” The second highest reason for calls was requests for medical services—health exams, counseling, and substance abuse concerns.
The following summer in 1971, two UCLA medical students arrived in Salem as part of an 8-week internship with the Marion County Health Department. Noting the lack of health care available for the low-income and the homeless, students Phil Yule and Paul Kaplan requested the assistance of the Health Department in opening a free clinic to serve our disadvantaged population. With the Department’s support and assistance, The Cry of Love Free Clinic was opened, staffed by a crew of dedicated medical students and volunteer medical professionals.
As happenstance would have it, the Cry of Love Free Clinic and the Switchboard for Help were situated separately within a large warehouse that had been converted into offices housing social service agencies and small businesses. Realizing that their respective missions of serving the underserved were well aligned, the Cry of Love Free Clinic and Switchboard for Help soon merged into a single entity under the Cry of Love name.
In 1977, Cry of Love received its first federal grant from the US Public Health Service, ensuring those most in need would have access to low cost, quality health care. Beyond that, Northwest Human Services set out to meet even more sociomedical needs of our community:
1980: The Cry of Love Clinic becomes known as West Salem Clinic, offering medical, psychiatry, and mental health care.
1982: The Corporation’s name is changed to Northwest Human Services, Inc to help shed its “counter-culture” image.
1982: Northwest Human Services answered the call to help homeless youth by obtaining Federal “Basic Center” funding to open a youth program, first known as the Runaway Shelter Project/Salem Streetlight. Under the original model, homeless, runaway, and abandoned youth (ages 12-18) were temporarily placed with volunteer families to provide respite care from tumultuous home life situations. In the early 1990s The Runaway Shelter Project formally changed their name to HOST or Homes Offering Shelter to Teens. Today, HOST (now an acronym for Health, Outreach, Shelter, Transitions) provides basic needs services, support and shelter for transitional youth, ages 18-24.
1983: In response to the overrepresented Homeless population, NWHS applied for and received Healthcare for the Homeless Funding to support no cost medical care to the homeless individuals in our community. NWHS still receives this funding and provides no cost medical, dental, psychiatry and mental health care to our unhoused population.
1986: With Federal support, NWHS opened the Homeless Outreach and Advocacy Project (HOAP) to provide meals, showers, laundry, and case management services to the chronically homeless population. Published articles covering the early days of HOAP detail the plight of mentally ill adults recently released from the Oregon State Hospital or the Oregon State Penitentiary with no housing, no formal health, social or financial supports in place, and no one to turn to. HOAP became, and still is, a place to turn, offering a safe and judgment free space, full of compassion, dignity, and respect.
2000: The West Salem Dental Clinic opened on the West Salem Clinic Campus to bridge the gap in dental services available for uninsured and underinsured individuals.
2002: After seeing that the need for medical services reached beyond the City of Salem, NWHS received a federal grant to open the Total Health Community Clinic in Monmouth giving our rural neighbors access to medical care to help them live healthier, happier lives.
2007 – 2010: Site Expansion: 2007 saw the addition of a common lobby connecting two formerly separate West Salem Clinic primary care buildings. In 2010, NWHS completed a full remodel of the primary care annex at the West Salem Clinic, adding more exam rooms to accommodate our growing patient base.
2012 – 2016: NWHS opened a QuickCare Clinic on our West Salem Campus for same day medical appointments for acute primary care concerns. In 2016, NWHS underwent further construction to expand our clinic site and add more exam rooms to our QuickCare Clinic.
2019 – current: NWHS has embarked upon the largest building expansion project in our history. Adding over 32,000 square feet to our West Salem Clinic, we will ultimately have a 50,000 square foot building which will house our medical, dental, psychiatry, and mental health services, as well as our business offices, IT and the Crisis & Information Hotline.
Throughout each stage of growth and new service offering, NWHS has remained committed to providing fully integrated coordinated care. Our West Salem Clinic and Total Health Community Clinic are Patient Centered Medical Home Certified federally qualified health centers, employing highly qualified medical professionals including physicians, physicians assistants, nurse practitioners, a psychiatric team, counselors, behaviorists and an on-site clinical pharmacist, each bringing with them a passion for serving those most in need. In recent years, our medical staff have begun providing care onsite at our HOST and HOAP programs, helping to eradicate barriers to positive health outcomes for vulnerable and marginalized populations.
At the heart of it all, Switchboard for Help is still going strong operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Now known as the Crisis and Information Hotline, our team handled 20,949 calls in 2020. Our Crisis Intervention Workers are trained to handle the most extreme emotional crises that people face. Hotline is a member of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and is accredited by the American Association of Suicidology, meaning we are held to the highest national standards for suicide intervention services. The Hotline’s one-time emergency financial assistance bridges the gap for families and individuals whose life circumstances have temporarily taken a detour, often saving them from eviction or having their utilities shut off. And of course, callers can still “just plain rap,” and receive the emotional reassurance and support they need when times are tough.
Though NWHS has been established in our community for 50 years and has evolved from a volunteer run free clinic into a multi-service agency, the original commitment remains as strong as ever. As long as there is a need in our community, NWHS will act as a safety net of support, creating a healthy community with respect, compassion and acceptance for all.
- 11,464 patients totaling 60,850 visits
- 2,167 Virtual & In-Person Dental visits
- 16,117 Virtual & In-Person Mental Health & Psychiatry visits
- 35,589 Virtual & In-Person Medical Clinic visits
- 6,978 Case Management, Behaviorist & Support visits
- 2,162 homeless patients/clients; 19% of all served