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An Institution Formed and Molded by Controversy

History Complied by Jennifer Collins
Independent Studies Project

Intro | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


By September that same year, the health center planned on opening its doors by the end of October while there were only five people on the payroll: Executive Director, Susan Joss, Chief Financial Officer David L. Hanson, Nurse Practitioner Christive Bonanno, Office Manager Kristin Bausemer and medical director, Dr, Elsie Varughese. The staff wanted to hire at least five more members including a pediatrician, a nurse, a nutritionist and a maintenance worker. The health center was able to do so because the federal grant extended its funding for another three years so that the clinic could finally get on its feet. Considering the population of the Medically Underserved Area that the clinic would be established in, the job offerings favored those that were fluent in another language besides English. In explaining the type of services that would be offered, Susan Joss said that it would be much like a typical family practice doctor’s office, offering prenatal care, checkups, screenings, immunizations, physicals, and treatment of minor illnesses and chronic diseases. Those patients with significant problems would be referred to specialists. Joss also addressed the lasting accusation that the clinic would be an AIDS clinic. She said, “AIDS patients will be treated the way a family practitioner would first threat them and then they would be referred to a specialist somewhere else. We are not specializing in the treatment of AIDS.”

While the health center was under development, the coalition that comprised the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center continued to act in support of its mission to spread health care to everyone in the community. On October 8, 1994, volunteers from the health center and from Boston’s Hope for Kids ran a free immunization clinic primarily targeting children between the ages of 6 mo. - 5 yrs who were un-vaccinated. The efforts of these volunteers demonstrated how committed the coalition was to the mission of the health center. Within the next few weeks of this event, the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center finally opened its doors to the public at the end of October, 1994.

Lou AngeloOnly a few months later, one of the leading political supporters of the health center from its origins, Lou Angelo, was in the middle of a battle with liver and pancreatic cancer. His situation triggered the concern of city official and especially members of the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center. On June 11, 1995, the State Representative lost that battle. Angelo died at the age of 42, but not before he had left his mark in the community. Angelo lived to see the ultimate success of the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center that he had fought so hard to defend. Still, today, he has not been forgotten, and on August 16, 1995, an examination room in the clinic was dedicated in his memory.

After so much protest from the opponents in the community, the health center could finally report its progress and prove that the accusations were wrong. By August, 1995, the clinic was seeing more than 450 patients a month with an expected increase. It was also questionable as to what types of patients would be drawn to such a clinic and opinions spread that it would attract those who were poor, drug addicted, or diseased. However, the majority of the patients were those who were maintaining a job, but the jobs did not provide health insurance. The services that the center was offering were seemingly effective; including the pre-natal program, screenings for diabetes and blood pressure and nutritional counseling.

Because of the success of the clinic thus far, funds were adding up. In November, 1995, the clinic raised over $8,000 through the Donor Club with the help of supporters such as Jack Yunits, George Papas, and Gerry Studds.

Proposed site: 1992 Health Center: 1995

Newspaper clips

Then, in early 1996, the Good Samaritan Medical Center donated $25,000 to the center to help establish obstetric and gynecological care at the center.

By March of 1996, the health center reported that the expected number of patient visits, which ‘as originally 350 per month, was expected to be tripled within the next few months 1000 visits. With a $165,000 grant from the federal government, the health center planned to renovate the building to include at least ten new examination rooms on the first floor. By this point, Joss explained that the problem with health care in Brockton was the lack of primary services being offered to the population. The clinic was seeing children who had never received immunization shots and adults with dangerously high cholesterol and blood pressure risks. If these patients had been receiving primary health care, the screenings and immunizations would have been done before. Another service that the health center was focusing on was teenage health. In October, 1995, a teen clinic was opened on Monday evenings for those who did not want pediatric care or adult care. This is an example of how the health center was giving the community options about the health care services, and overall, improving the standards of health care in Brockton.

In early April of 1997, the first floor was finally opened for services after renovations and the second floor then went under renovations so that a total of 14 examination rooms on the two floors could be in operation. By this point, the staff had expanded to include several languages, including Cape Verdean Creole, Portuguese, Spanish, French and Haitian Creole. As predicted, less than three years after the clinic opened its doors in November 1994, it was seeing about 1,100 patients per month. Also, the clinic’s budget grew from $250,000 to over $2 million since November, 1994. One statistic that proved the impact of the health center was infant mortality in 1993 was 15 deaths and in 1995, after the center opened, there were 3 deaths in the city of Brockton.

To add to the success of the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center, in May 1997, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care foundation awarded a $25,000 grant to the health center to address domestic violence and HIV prevention issues. This grant allowed the expansion of the health center’s services even more. Another sign that the mission of the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center was spreading was the fact that Dr. Gerald Jensen, pediatrician of Bristol, Conn., decided to donate his medical supplies to the clinic when he retired in July of 1997. Jensen had the option of selling his pediatric equipment for his own profit but the decision was made based on the cause that the health center was sewing.

The services at the health center also improved as medical breakthroughs were made. In 1995, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine called Varivax for chicken pox. By August of 1997, the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center was administering the vaccination on a regular basis. On Saturday, October 25, 1997, the health center held an auction to benefit the pediatric services offered at the clinic and also to pay for vision correction of patients.

Another positive impact that the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center brought to the downtown area of Brockton was the opening of the Plaza Pharmacy in the building of the former Romm’s Jewelers Company. For this reason, the health center was bringing about economic development in downtown Brockton instead of inhibiting it as some politicians predicted. On April 20, 1998, the pharmacy opened its doors with support from Mayor Jack Yunits and U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy. Brockton had not had a pharmacy downtown since 1989 and pharmacies that were developing in other parts of Brockton, such as CVS, Walgreens and Osco Drug, had avoided the downtown area.

The funding still had not subsided. In March of 1998, the health center received a $20,000 grant from the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. This grant was to help expand the MassHealth and Children’s Medical Security programs. An extraordinary bit of information came from a 1998 report form the U.S. Public Health Service. This report said that the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center was the second fastest growing federally funded urban health center in the nation. The average rate of patient-visit increase was 5.4% from 1994-1995 while the increase at the Brockton clinic was 195%. It was also the fastest growing clinic in the state of Massachusetts.

Five years after the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center opened its doors in 1994, it has become an integral part of the community of Brockton. Through an overall improvement of the primary and preventive health care standards in Brockton, the health center has been able to pull the community closer together. The perseverance of those adamant supporters who took an active role in the center’s establishment and who did not submit to the opposition during the times of intense controversy with strong political figures allowed the success of the clinic. These supporters were finally able to prove to the community that such a clinic was the logical solution to the - medical situation which was addressed many years prior. The time and effort spent debating the issue of the health center proves that, although a logical solution to a problem may be proposed, concerns may inhibit the immediate action and cause those who support the proposal to resort to other political and communication tactics so that the problem may be resolved.


Intro | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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