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The BROCKTON NEIGHBORHOOD
HEALTH CENTER:
An Institution Formed and Molded by Controversy

History Complied by Jennifer Collins
Independent Studies Project

Intro | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

PART TWO

The opposition claimed that there reasoning for their refusal to allow the health center to be located at the original site (157 Main Street/West Elm Street) was due to concern for the revitalization of the center of Brockton. The site proposals also sparked varying opinions for the local merchants of Brockton. For some business owners, a health center in the neighborhood would not be bothersome, regardless of the types of people it attracts. For others, the opinion was quite different. Mark Travis, the manager of Travis Cycle on North Main Street, commented, “If they want to revitalize Main Street like they’re talking about, that’s not what they should put in. They should put it away from where they want people to shop. Put it somewhere away from the center. They city’s got to make a decision. Do they want businesses or do they want welfare offices?” Many other business owners felt this same concern toward the impact of such a facility on the merchants of Brockton. This concern was to continue until the situation was resolved and, for some businesses, even after that.

Brockton Health Center CartoonAnother heated topic of controversy was the interpretation by City Councilors Creedon and Kelley. The two argued that this center would serve as an AIDS clinic instead of a primary and preventive treatment center. The supporters of the health center claimed that this public accusation was not only false, but it also was inhibitory to the progress of the health center because it gave the wrong impression and ultimately drove fear into the minds of many citizens and merchants. It was difficult, however, for these opponents of the health center to face some of the proponents, especially since clergy leaders and members became a strong force in the debate. Rev. Frank Cloherty, pastor of St. Patrick’s church on Main Street claimed that he was relocated to Brockton from Jamaica Plains and he had intended to “lay low. However, he found himself drawn into the controversy of the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center and he became a member of the Board of Trustees to oversee its progress. As an example of the predicted effects of the proposed Neighborhood Health Center, Geraldine Creedon mentioned the impact of the Mainspring House in Brockton. She reminded the proponents of the Health Center that the Mainspring House had similar visions for treating the same “underserved” area and that the business surrounding the site were soon hurt and eventually forced to close doors. This example, in itself is questionable considering that views of the effectiveness of the Mainspring House may shift from person to person. For example, Rev. William McCoy spoke in defense of the Mainspring House claiming that it has been, overall, advantageous for the downtown area of Brockton. Overall, the basis of the arguments thus far in the controversy over the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center can be summed up by assuming that the proponents desired a downtown, central location because that is the particular target area in which there is the most need for primary health care expansion. On the other hand, opponents of the center maintained an argument that the health center would add undesirable elements to the area of Brockton that was already in need of nourishment and instead, the health center should be located on the grounds of one of the three community hospitals in the area.

Marti GlynnBy January 1993, the Board of Trustees for the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center had made a key step by hiring a full time executive director. Marti A. Glynn had served as the executive director of the Martha Eliot Health Center of the Children’s Hospital in Boston and she agreed to head the establishment of a similar facility in the Brockton area. When Glynn entered the controversy, the decision was made that the alternative site of 747 North Main Street was no longer under consideration on the basis that is was too far north of the district that displayed medical attention. Although Mayor Farwell publicly opposed the other two sites, Glynn told him that the Board of Trustees would meet and inform him of the final decision following the meeting. By February 1993, the Board had finally decided. The site chosen was located at the corner of Main and West Elm Streets. Glynn commented that “it’s the most affordable and it’s the best location. It’s in the heart of the area we want to serve.” As predicted, this decision angered Mayor Farwell and he promised to fight the controversial location. Glynn knew that she would need a special permit to use this location of former Christy’s Market and Farwell wanted to investigate whether they would need a validation from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Although Farwell was not done fighting the center, Glynn hoped to have the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center open by July 1, 1993. Glynn argued that, contrary to what the opposition envisioned, neighborhood health centers in Boston and Lynn were now considered the focal point of those cities revitalization. She believed the same could be done in Brockton.

Not only was Mayor Farwell furious with the decision of the Main Street sight for the health center, Mr. Alexander Romm Rysman also objected to this location. Rysman was the president of Romm’s Jewelers (directly across the street from the proposed site) and also the chairman of the Downtown Brockton Association which was a group of merchants located in this downtown area. He expressed his concern by stating that the health center would be inappropriate and the downtown area should be strictly for retail as it has been for so many years. He claimed that he did not know of any other merchant in the DBA (Downtown Brockton Association) that did not share this opinion.

Brockton Health Center Map

Finally, in the beginning of March 1993, both proponents and opponents were able to voice their concerns and opinions at the City Council’s Financial Committee meeting. At this meeting, State Commissioner of Public Health, David H. Mulligan defended the controversial site of the health center. For about two hours, dispute continued and both the proponents and the opponents remained defensive of their visions. The meeting was not meant to produce any decisions. Rather it was used as a forum to begin educating political officials about health - centers and educating health officials about social impacts.

Soon after this City Council meeting came the news from the Building Superintendent, David Tonis, that a city ordinance barred health clinics from establishing in the downtown business zone. The controversy turned from a dispute to a legality. Glynn planned on applying for the permit despite the ordinance and if she was rejected, to take legal action. While awaiting more news from the Zoning Board, Marti Glynn decided to accept the offer of Health Commissioner David Mulligan to tour a facility similar to the one proposed for Brockton. The strong opponents Rysman and Kelley agreed to join the tour to learn more about the proposed health center and to observe what conditions would be like in Brockton if such a clinic came to the downtown area. The tour was scheduled for April 13, 1993.

A few skeptic Brockton area merchants who attended the tour, returned to Brockton with a different view. Seeing the functioning community-based health center in East Boston convinced a few that this would be a positive addition to Brockton. However, Joseph Kelley still remained a strong opponent of the health center.

An ironic twist to the controversy was the fact that, as the Board of Trustees for the health center was awaiting a decision from the Zoning Board, Marti Glynn rented new offices to maintain her work as the executive director. The offices she rented were from Alexander Rysman, of Romm’s Jewelers, who vehemently opposed the idea of this clinic locating across the street from his business. Thus, the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center was receiving office space from one of its strongest critics. The location of these offices was convenient because the planned health center was to be established across the street in the former Christy’s Market building.

Finally, on May 11, 1993, the health center went before the Zoning Board of Appeals. Hundreds of people attended the public hearing to determine the fate of the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center. Despite the support of community members and clergy from the area, the Zoning Board of Appeals rejected the proposal of the community-based health center to be established in the downtown area considering the ordinance acting in the city. The vote of rejection was swayed by the one member, John Cahill, who voted against the center.

From this point, the controversy was expected to go to court and Attorney George N. Asack agreed to represent the health center assuming that his clients would probably want to sue the city of Brockton. He was correct. In late June, the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center filed a lawsuit against the Zoning Board in response to the rejection on May 11. Asack not only represented the health center, but also James Mihos, who owned the building of potential location and was in the process of finalizing a lease when the Zoning Board ruled. Despite the denial by the Zoning Board, the health center continued to receive federal funds to establish a health center after Marti Glynn met with officials from the Federal Public Health Service and explained to them the commitment to the health center. Next, Glynn wanted to seek a change in the ordinance that refused the establishment of the health center. For an ordinance to be changed, eight or nine votes of the eleven-member City Council was required. Glynn believed this was within reach. Six of the City Council members had already publicly supported the health center.

Then, in July of 1993, Louis Angelo announced that he would not seek ree1ection in the fall so that he may care for his ill father. As Ward 7 City Councilor, Angelo was an influential proponent of the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center and he promised that during his last six months of service to the city would involve efforts for the health center. More unfortunately for the health center, by the end of October 1993, three top officials that had given considerable support and structure to the health center, resigned from their positions during a crucial period of the clinic’s development. These three officials were the Executive Director Marti A. Glynn, the president of the board of trustees for the center, Judith S. Kubzansky, and the center’s chief financial officer, Pam St. Germain. At this time, Joanne Hoops, also a member of the board of trustees and Executive Director of the Brockton Boys and Girls Club was named as the temporary president of the board while the search was underway for replacement positions for the executive director and board of trustees president.

While the health center was going through a transitional phase, as so many referred to the time period of resignations, it also had some aspects working. for its benefit. The City Council election for the fall of 1993 was a decisive one for the future progress of the health center. City Councilor-At-Large Geraldine Creedon won her re-election despite the fact that she was an adamant opponent of the health center. However, the other force within the City Council that was inhibiting the progress of the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center was Joseph Kelley. In the election, Kelley was defeated by the Ward 6 candidate Donna Dailey, who had previously expressed her support for the downtown health center. Thus, the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center began 1994 on a good note since there was more political support in the City Council.

In January of 1994, the health center hired a new executive director to replace Marti Glynn. The selection process yielded the former vice president of human resources and nursing and finance at Community Hospital in Cranston, Rhode Island. When the hospital closed in 1993, Susan Joss found a new position in Brockton. The former executive director, Glynn, had left her position for a higher-paying job at Boston University.

One month after Joss became the new executive director, she announced that the Brockton Neighborhood health center would resubmit the ordinance amendment to the City Council after it had been tabled already by the Council. At this point, the health center staff was still leasing office space from Romm & Co. Jewelers, directly across the street from the predicted site for the center. By mid-February, Joss decided to move the downtown administrative offices to the basement of St. Patrick’s Church at 335 Main Street. The purpose of this move was so that the health center could offer its first medical services while awaiting zoning approval from the City Council. . Offering basic medical services to the insured and uninsured was the primary mission of the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center and Joss decided that too much time had passed with no action because of the political controversy of zoning.

So the health center leased a mobile medical van from Goddard Occupational Health Services. The staff of the van included doctors and nurses contracted by The Good Samaritan Medical Center. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the van was in service, and offered free care to senior citizens of Brockton. This health care included cholesterol and blood pressure screenings. The van also offered flu shots and basic lab work. Preventive and nutritional information and counseling was also available. While the health clinic was busy at work in the parking lot of St. Patrick’s church, the community activism was also spreading into the church itself. Two priests of the parish, Rev. Francis Cloherty and Rev. John Doyle (pictured above), were also influential advocates of the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center. The two spread the idea of community involvement, specifically toward the health center to the parishioners. In fact, during the time period when the medical service van was functioning, the weekly trend was for seniors in the parish to visit the van following Sunday Mass. This shows how the mission of the health center, which was M. Creedon alerted local media and took photographs of the sign to show at the council meeting as evidence of the community’s views of the proposed health center. Also in reaction to the prank, Susan Joss defended the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center by saying that the clinic had no connections with any type of methadone clinic.

Although this prank seemed to influence both sides of the argument in the last few days before the final decision was made, on Monday, June 27, 1994, the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center finally received the necessary zoning permission. The decisive vote was ultimately 10-1 in favor of the health center. The surprising turn-around came from the Council President Thomas Plouffe, who had voted against the proposal the month prior but changed his vote at the last minute. The only vote against the proposal this time came predictably from Geraldine Creedon who had never swayed from her opposition to the health center. The next day, June 28, Mayor Farwell signed the ordinance to allow the clinic zoning at 157 Main Street. Now that this major obstacle had been overcome in the development of the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center, the officials of the center had to shift gears immediately to the task of establishing the clinic as planned.

END OF PART 2

Intro | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

 

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