Rendering of the front of the new Open Door Health Center in Arcata | Image from Open Door Community Health


Arcata’s new Open Door Community Health Center – that big ol’ building under construction on the corner of Foster and Sunset – is almost complete and, if everything goes as planned, should be opening its doors to patients this fall. 

Open Door announced plans for the project in the summer of 2019, with a plan to open by 2022. But when COVID struck in 2020, the project had to be delayed. The crew finally broke ground in 2021 and Cheyenne Spetzler, Open Door’s senior vice president of development, told the Outpost that since then development has remained pretty on schedule. 

“I just have to say that Pacific Builders, those folks are my heroes,” Spetzler said in a phone interview on Monday afternoon. “Because every time there’s a problem, they just figure out a way to keep moving.” 

At this point, nearly all of the most time-consuming infrastructure – the plumbing, electrical, and the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems – have been installed, and the sheetrock has all been put in, too. Spetzler said that one of the main delays with construction has been getting the windows put in, because of supply chain issues. Right now the crews are still waiting on the windows, which are being delivered about four months behind schedule. But Spetzler said that even with the delay, the timeline for the project hasn’t been impacted very much. 

The only potential delay that Spetzler is slightly concerned about is with the licensing from the California Department of Public Health. Once the building is complete and has passed inspection, Open Door will need to submit their licensing packet, and sometimes the state will take months to process it. But assuming everything goes smoothly, Spetzler thinks the facility will open its door in October. 

To run the new clinic, operations from the two existing Open Door centers in Arcata – Humboldt Open Door on 10th Street and NorthCountry Clinic on 18th Street – will be moved to the new facility, and the other two sites will be closed. Spetzler said that consolidating the two clinics will make things more streamlined for both Open Door staff and patients, who often have to go back and forth between the clinics for care. Also, both of those buildings were very old, and if something disastrous were to happen the Clinic has no other space where it could offer services in Arcata. 

The health center building currently under construction, seen from Foster

“The rationale for the new building is the precarious nature of the old facilities that we operate in.” Spetzler said. “Neither building was ever meant to be a clinic. And we did what we could to make them into clinics, with lots of exam rooms and funky offices and everything. But there were two front desks, two labs, two medical records departments and two call departments … . It’s not efficient.”

With more efficient operations, the new facility will require less staff than the two clinics. But this doesn’t mean there will need to be layoffs. Open Door has a pretty high turnover in some staffing areas and is often operating with staffing shortages. Spetzler said that any staff from the two Arcata clinics who are not placed at the new facility will likely be able to transfer to one of Open Door’s other locations around the county. 

The new building is much bigger than the existing Arcata locations, totaling 34,000 square feet in size, which is 1,000 square feet larger than the two clinics combined. The space will hold 34 exam rooms, which is one more than the other clinics combined. With a little more space, new facilities and equipment and a more efficient workflow, the new clinic should be able to accommodate a higher number of patients and annual visits. However, the difference is not huge. Open Door estimates that the new clinic can accommodate about 14,000 patients, compared to 13,396 seen by the Arcata clinics now. Visits are also expected to increase from 43,306 from 44,000 annually.  

If you are an Open Door patient, then you might already know that parking can be an issue at the other Arcata clinics, with each only holding 10 on-site parking spaces. The new clinic has close to 100 parking spaces, some of which have charging stations for electric vehicles, Spetzler said. 

Of course, as with all new developments in Arcata, the City wants the facility to discourage driving cars and encourage other forms of transportation. Spetzler said that employees will be offered incentives for taking other forms of transportation, including free bus passes and possibly cash bonuses for not driving their cars.

Another feature of the new clinic is a gym for the employees, with showers and a changing room. Spetzler said this was something that many staff members said they would like, so that they don’t have to leave the building to work out. The availability of showers and changing rooms will also help encourage employees to ride their bikes to work, if they are able, because they will be able to clean up and change into work clothes after they arrive. 

The new building also is equipped with solar panels and will have backup generators. This means that in the event of major power outages, the clinic will be able to serve as an emergency center, providing community members with a place to charge their devices, fill up on clean water, etc. 

Though most of the services provided by the clinic will remain the same, Spetzler said that there will be an expansion of behavioral health care, including things like mental health and substance use counseling. Thanks to some funding provided by the Vesper Society in San Francisco, Spetzler said that Open Door will be focusing on providing more of these services, especially for families.  

Spetzler said that with the new clinic, Open Door is also working toward expanding other services and programs, such as residency programs for nurse practitioners, in the future. She is very excited for the new clinic to open and wanted to thank the City of Arcata and the community for their support. 

“We had these neighborhood meetings and we definitely listened to what the neighbors asked for and we haven’t had almost any complaints,” Spetzler said. “There’s actually been a pretty impressive lack of complaints from the neighborhood, considering we’re building this huge thing.”