A Farewell Love Letter to Thomas Street Health Center
by Dawn Jenkins
It’s been a little over 40 years since Houston-area residents took notice of a novel virus (HIV) slowly ripping through mostly gay and minority communities. The touchstone for many of those affected by the developing AIDS crisis in Houston was Harris Health, through the establishment of a new center in a classic Mediterranean building with a terra-cotta roof, dedicated to caring for those afflicted with the incurable disease in its early days.
In May, we say farewell to Thomas Street Health Center at its present location—the dedicated HIV/AIDS facility nestled in the heart of Houston’s near Northside, where it has become a stalwart of compassionate care for a sometimes-marginalized and ignored community.
Our services are moving to a new location in the Third Ward, at the new Thomas Street at Quentin Mease Health Center.
But what made Thomas Street so special that it merits the continued use of its street name at our new site? Thomas Street Health Center opened in 1989 during the height of the AIDS epidemic. In fact, the center is recognized as the first freestanding HIV/AIDS facility in America. Over the years, Thomas Street became renowned as a leader for outstanding patient care, treatment and research. It also emerged as a safe place, a place of no judgment, a place of support and a place of family.
Our staff connected on a human level with each patient—so much so that their personal celebrations and tragedies became ours. I can’t tell you how happy I get knowing that our patients are living robust lives and contributing to our community, thanks in part to our work.
Unfortunately, time has not been kind to the Thomas Street building. Our beloved facility can no longer adequately meet the growing needs of our patients, and renovations are impractical due to historical preservation considerations. You see, Thomas Street is a protected historic structure originally opened in 1911 as Southern Pacific Hospital for railroad employees. It’s given us 34 years and seen thousands of patients receive vital life-saving medical care and other essential services.
As we say farewell to our landmark location, and all of its wonderful history, our staff and medical providers recommit to advancing the level of care and support for HIV-postive patients today, until we can end our fight with a cure.
Dawn Jenkins, LCSW-S, is Harris Health’s director of Ambulatory Care HIV Services at Thomas Street Health Center.