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


Years in development, Open Door Community Health Centers’ sparkling-new Arcata location has experienced some delays — caused primarily by the COVID pandemic and subsequent supply chain issues — but it’s now expected to start welcoming patients the first week of January, according to Cheyenne Spetzler, the nonprofit’s senior vice president of development.

“A lot of things are happening simultaneously,” Spetlzer said when we reached her by phone earlier this week. “Medical equipment is arriving tomorrow.”

The new health center, located just west of the intersection of Foster and Sunset avenues, near the Arcata Skate Park, will replace the organization’s two existing Arcata clinics — Humboldt Open Door Clinic on 10th Street and NorthCountry Clinic on 18th Street.

For Spetzler, the transition can’t come soon enough.

“We did want to replace our two aging buildings because it’s so hard to get a building license that if we lost either of those clinics, we wouldn’t be able to replace that [patient-serving] capacity,” she said. “So, to me, there has been a rush to get the new building built before we experienced a catastrophic failure in one building or the other.”

The new location is just slightly larger than the two it will replace, and patient capacity in Arcata is expected to rise modestly as well — from 43,306 to 44,000 annually. 

That doesn’t mean that the clinic will be able to admit hundreds of new patients, though. There is unmet demand for medical services across the county, particularly for primary care, and Spetzler said Open Door has patient waiting lists at all 10 of its locations. 

“We’re limited by the number of primary care providers we can recruit, mostly physicians,” she said. Open Door operates a family medicine residency program in collaboration with Providence-St. Joseph Hospital, and Spetzler said that program is “starting to hopefully generate some physicians who have an interest in being here long-term.”

The organization is already reaping benefits from its Advanced Practice Clinician Residency Program, which serves newly graduated family nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

“We do get to retain many of those grads, so we’re sort of growing our own,” Spetzler said, “but there is still a bit of a shortage. We knew for 25 years there would be, and here we are.”

She and her late husband, Herrmann Spetzler, who led Open Door for more than four decades, long predicted that Humboldt County would have difficulty recruiting and maintaining enough primary caregivers, though they hoped to alleviate some of the burden through telemedicine services. 

Open Door has done that, to a certain extent, but it’s not enough to meet demand.

We have a pretty large department now that does full-time recruiting, and we still struggle,” Spetzler said. “We have openings.”

There’s a healthcare worker shortage affecting the entire country, and Spetzler said rural areas are suffering the most, though she added that Humboldt does have a lot of advantages, including the pleasant climate, relatively low housing costs (by California standards, anyway) and the presence of Cal Poly Humboldt.

And soon, Open Door will have a brand new clinic to attract applicants.