Health center celebrates 40 years of community care

November 16, 2007
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“A community health center is a place where I can receive quality health care, medical care, mental care or social services from qualified professionals with dignity and respect regardless of my race, cultural or economic background… a place where consumers play a major role in both the planning and delivery of services.”
—Mildred Hailey, 1987

JACKSON SQ.—These words, uttered 20 years ago by Mildred Hailey, director of Bromley-Health Tenant Management Corporation and driving force behind the creation of Martha Eliot Health Center (MEHC) in Jackson Square, continue to capture the goal of Children’s Hospital Boston’s (CHB) community health center: to provide compassionate care to a highly diverse population.

Today, these words also serve as a reminder of the important role of community health centers in providing high quality culturally competent care in Boston, which has officially become a “majority minority” city.

Last month, MEHC and Children’s celebrated the health center’s 40th anniversary, its achievements and the dedication of its staff, whose growth and diversity reflects the community it serves.

More than 350 individuals attended Martha Eliot’s 40th anniversary gala, “Caring for your family…yesterday, today and tomorrow,” at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel. The crowd included state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, City Councilor John Tobin and various community leaders, along with MEHC and CHB employees and patients. John Auerbach, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, served as the event’s guest speaker.

During the program, James Cote, MEHC’s executive director, presented the Eva J. Salber Awards to employees who have worked at the health center for 20 years or more. These honorees included: Teofila Estremera, Kathryn Harris, Annie Joseph-Kelton, Lydie Prudent, Grisel Velasquez and Kurt Williams. In addition, the Lewis and Rosa families, who have been using MEHC for their healthcare needs for four generations, were also recognized.

“The health center’s growth and success through the years is due in large part to our staff’s commitment to providing high-quality culturally competent care to a diverse community,” said Cote.

MEHC was founded in 1967, during a time of critical need for accessible, quality care in the inner city, and continues to serve as a safety net for families living in Bromley-Heath, Egleston and Hyde Squares and other neighborhoods in JP, as well as Mission Hill and Roxbury.

“Children’s is proud to partner with Martha Eliot Health Center, working hand-in-hand to enhance the health and well-being of our community, and we look forward to many more years to come,” said Dr. James Mandell, Children’s president and chief executive officer.

Since its humble beginnings as a makeshift “well-baby” clinic in a woodworking room serving families of Bromley-Heath, MEHC has become a stand-alone comprehensive health center providing pediatric primary care, along with adult, adolescent, obstetrics/gynecology, mental health, nutrition, optometry, HIV and early intervention services.

When it was created in 1967, the center was named after Dr. Martha May Eliot a pediatrician who, for more than 50 years, took a leadership role in the development of health services for mothers and children. The creation of MEHC instantly resulted in improved access to quality care. It was welcomed by JP families, particularly those with children, who in the past had to trek to Children’s.

Today, MEHC is housed in a 25,345-square-foot building with 21 examination rooms next to Stop & Shop. More than 120 employees, consisting of physicians, nurses, therapists, nutritionists, social workers and administrators, serve the nearly 9,000 patients who make about 56,000 visits a year.

MEHC recently named Cote as its new executive director and added several new positions. Former director of Ambulatory Services at Children’s, Cote works to support the center’s current programs and training and development opportunities for employees while assessing the community’s needs and expanding services accordingly.

“Many of our patients come in with a barrier prohibiting them from accessing health care, whether it is language, economic or social,” he said. “We want to break down those barriers. We also want the community to know that we work hand-in-hand with Children’s, and our patients receive the same level of care and service they would at the hospital.”

Despite its growth and the many changes its neighborhood has undergone in the past 40 years, MEHC’s commitment and mission remain unwavering, according to hospital officials, and the center’s staff prides itself on caring for a vibrant population of African-Americans, Latinos, Somalis, Cape Verdeans and other ethnicities. As a result, Children’s considers MEHC its lens into the local community.

“It’s about getting into the fabric of our community,” said Karen Darcy, a former co-executive director of MEHC. “It’s why we have health fairs and conduct youth and adolescent outreach. We’re genuinely committed to the community and we’re involved in their tragedies, accomplishments and celebrations.”

To learn more about MEHC’s services, staff and rich history, please visit its special 40th anniversary website at www.childrenshospital.org/mehc, which includes a historical slide show and a video of the anniversary celebration.

From materials provided by Children’s Hospital Boston.