By State Representative Liz Malia and State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz
The 70th anniversary of the law that enabled the state to treat chronically ill individuals at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital seems like an apt time to consider how our understanding of public health has changed, and how pressing the need for access to health care remains.
Chapter 770 of the Acts of 1949 formalized the City of Boston and the Commonwealth’s agreement to transfer “up to 15 acres of…Franklin Park…Any land conveyed under this act shall, from and after such conveyance be held for the state department of public health, which is hereby authorized and directed to construct on such land a six-hundred bed hospital for the care of persons suffering from chronic disease, including a nurse’s home, outpatient department and other facilities.”
Policymakers then understood a general link between poverty and chronic disease incidence, which is why they agreed to build a public teaching hospital and outpatient facilities offering affordable diagnosis and rehabilitation services in the Commonwealth’s biggest city. Since then, diabetes and addiction have overtaken tuberculosis as public health threats, but the poverty-health link is clearer than ever now. We see our poorest neighbors often struggling with multiple chronic conditions (infectious and otherwise) that are impossible to treat when their housing is unstable or nonexistent. The infectious diseases that incubate among economically fragile, homeless and very sick populations rarely stay there, as San Diego and other cities have learned to their chagrin.
I and others worked with state agencies in 2018 to meet your request for more transparent planning. I’ve spent the last year following the work of the Shattuck Hospital’s Community Advisory Board and neighbors to define a new service model that will ready the campus for another century of public health shifts. Those conversations between the state’s Executive Office of Health & Human Services, the Department of Public Health, and Department of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, and the City of Boston’s Departments of Neighborhood Development and Health and Human Servicesand your neighbors are informed by links between poverty, housing and health
At almost every neighborhood meeting we attend with you, and in others across our districts, the most common questions raised are: how anyone can afford to continue living here? How will our neighbors and friends afford housing? We also hear from you how frustrating it is to see people who desperately need substance use treatment but aren’t able to access it. Pairing housing and health care facilities for the chronically homeless, while building in robust behavioral health options on this site, can help to answer both questions. The Community Advisory Board’s work so far in agreeing on core principles for programming services on the campus draws from successful national models that have advanced beyond Housing First, to Housing and Health Together.
Since this first phase of planning for the campus kicked off in August of 2018, the State’s hired consultant, Health Resources in Action, has drawn feedback directly from park users, advisory board members at five meetings, and neighbors at two community meetings and at individual association meetings. Community input during the request for proposal drafting and design review phases is just as critical — the agencies need your help in deciding an appropriate level of density, and fleshing out facilities designs that avoid the kind of architectural mistakes that make the current Hospital feel so deeply disconnected from Franklin Park.
We strongly encourage you to read more about the planning process to date, to submit comments, and to attend the next community meeting on Tuesday, June 25, 2019 beginning at 6:30 PM at the Franklin Park Golf Clubhouse located at 1 Circuit Drive, Dorchester, MA 02121.