Health center adult program closure criticized

(Gazette Photo by John Ruch) The Martha Eliot Health Center at 75 Bickford St. last week.

The Martha Eliot Health Center (MEHC) at 75 Bickford St. in Jackson Square recently announced that it was ending its treatment of adult patients. That pushed patients to criticize Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH), which oversees MEHC, saying that the community lacks information and that the move leaves them feeling stranded.

Dr. Shari Nethersole, MEHC’s acting medical director, said BCH sent a letter to patients about the closing and will hold an information session in March to help them with the transition.  She reiterated that it is shutting the adult program to focus on children and adolescents. The adult program treats about 5,000 patients.

When asked to comment on the burden traveling to a new health center will be for JP residents—especially those of Bromley-Heath, a low-income housing development—Nethersole said that only about 1,200 adult patients, or 24 percent, are from JP and about 300, or 6 percent, from Bromley-Heath. It is unclear how often those patients visit MEHC.

But, she said, “It is a bit of a challenge.”

She noted there are alternative health centers nearby, such as Dimock Community Health Center in Jackson Square and the Whittier Street Health Center in Roxbury.

“It’s not as though there aren’t options close by,” said Nethersole.

The adult program is run in partnership with Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), which provides the doctors. BWH was not involved in the decision to end the adult program because it is a BCH’s center, but it did direct MEHC patients to its new facility at the Mount Pleasant Home at 301 S. Huntington Ave.

“Brigham and Women’s Hospital is committed to providing primary care to adult patients from Martha Eliot Health Center at several of our off-campus practices,” said Tom Langford, a spokesperson for the hospital. “This includes the Brigham and Women’s Primary Care Associates, South Huntington, which is very near Martha Eliot Health Center’s Jamaica Plain location.”

Mordechai Levin, developer of the Jackson Square Stop & Shop supermarket development, which includes MEHC, declined to comment on the record about the adult program ending.

Julia Martin, an adult patient and member of MEHC advisory board, said people were “shocked” by the news of the adult program ending. The board is supposed to consult with MEHC, but Martin said it was not given any prior notice. Martin sits on the board with Mildred Hailey, who has an eye center named after her at MEHC.

“Where are we going to go?” said Martin.

Martin, who lives in a building for elderly people bearing her name in the Bromley-Heath housing development and was a member of the Tenant Management Corporation that used to oversee the housing development, said patients have asked her what can they do to prevent the move, with some mentioning a petition.

“I don’t know what to tell them,” she said.

Martin said she is about to turn 84 and suffers from bad knees, diabetes and asthma and has had a stroke. She expressed anxiousness over having to find and travel to a new doctor.

“It was convenient for me,” Martin said about MEHC. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

She added, “I’m very angry about it.”

Nethersole said BCH wants to be “very thoughtful and respectful of patients and families” during the transition and said MEHC will not stop serving adults until the end of June. She said MEHC might extend that deadline if circumstances warranted it.

She said BCH will host an information session sometime in March to educate patients about different options they have and might host another session as well.

Anne Roche of the state Department of Public Health said MEHC does not need state approval to end the program.

“Under the Department of Public Health licensure, Martha Eliot Health Center is not required to maintain adult health care services,” she said.

When asked to comment on MEHC ending the program, local state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez said through a spokesperson, “I look forward to working with [BCH] on their expansion of health services for children.”

It is unclear if MEHC will expand service to children, but BCH will review all of its programs there, Nethersole previously told the Gazette.

When it was created in 1967, MEHC 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, as the Gazette previously reported.

As late as 2007, on the 40th anniversary of MECH, BCH talked about its ongoing, “unwavering” commitment to treating families and the “strong leadership” of MEHC’s community advisory board.

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