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Worcester health center transforms abandoned space

September 08, 2014

Optometry intern Urvashi Patel works in a new exam room Monday in the optometry department in the newly expanded Family Health Center in Worcester. (T&G Staff/RICK CINCLAIR)


WORCESTER — When it came time to expand the Family Health Center of Worcester, clinic leaders found the solution right beneath their feet.

Two years and $8 million later, health care officials, city leaders, legislators and representatives of local nonprofit groups helped cut the ribbon on the ground floor of the former Worcester City Hospital building at 26 Queen St., in what was once a dusty, abandoned storage area below the space the health center was already leasing.

"We toured many dusty places in the city, looking for a place to grow," said Frances M. Anthes, president and chief executive officer of the Family Health Center. "The committee determined they're already here in this building, they need to grow."

The center provides primary health care and social services to low-income or uninsured patients. It was founded in 1974 to serve Main South and has been located on Queen Street since City Hospital closed in 1991, occupying the first through third floors.

It also serves as a training facility for students from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, which owns the building, and from MCPHS University in Worcester.

Growing into the basement, where services were phased in starting in December, it opened 20 new examination rooms, which will allow the center to serve thousands of additional patients.

Ms. Anthes said in 2011, there were 4,800 names on the waiting list for a primary care physician at the center. Ms. Anthes said 45 percent of the center's patients are served in a language other than English, with 37 languages represented.

Renovations on the first floor included additions to the pharmacy — built in the 1990s to fill an expected 200 prescriptions per day, but now handling 500 to 900 daily — and the clinic's first optometry lab, also a partnership with MCPHS. Full-time service for eye care began last week; an optical shop, allowing patients to purchase their prescription glasses in-house, will open in a couple months' time.

Charles F. Monahan Jr., president of MCPHS University, said his school's Worcester campus has benefited from being able to send its pharmacy and health services students to serve their clinical rotations at the Family Health Center of Worcester.

He called the city's community health centers, including the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center, "one of the major reasons we're in Worcester." The two centers, combined, serve about one-third of Worcester's population, he said.

Mr. Monahan has a personal connection to the Family Health Center as well. Before he became a university president, his family business, Monahan Pharmacy, filled prescriptions from the Family Health Center.

As part of the renovation, IT and medical records offices were moved to the ground floor, opening 2,690 square feet on the third floor to expand the dental clinic by 40 percent. The final phase of the project will update the flooring, lighting and furnishings of otherwise unchanged rooms and hallways on the first, second and third floors.

Congressman James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, noted that funding for the expansion came from a variety of sources, including private fundraising, nonprofit donors and federal funds from the controversial federal health care law known as Obamacare.

"Because of the collaboration, everyone has access to excellent care," Mr. McGovern said. "Yes, it's not perfect, but what you see here is a tangible benefit of the Affordable Care Act."

Other speakers at the ribbon-cutting event included City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Timothy J. Garvin of the United Way, James W. Hunt Jr. of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers and National Association of Community Health Centers, Dr. Daniel Lasser of UMass Medical School, and Janice B. Yost of the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts.

Michael Ballway

Worcester Telegram & Gazette

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