Obama: $80 million for state community health

Howard Manly | 12/16/2009, 3:18 a.m.

Frederica Williams knows first hand the growing need for comprehensive medical services in communities of color.

As president and CEO of the Whittier Street Health Center, Williams also knows about the limited resources that she has to offer such services.

 “Demand continues to expand rapidly,” Williams explained, “yet there are still so many in our community going without vital health care.”

Williams received a shot of good news last week. In what has been hailed as “a big step forward” for community health centers across the country, President Barack Obama awarded $600 million in federal stimulus funds to help modernize facilities, expand capacity, create jobs and reach 500,000 new patients across the country.

Included in the White House package were eight community health centers in Massachusetts — four in Boston, and ones in Fall River, New Bedford, Lowell and Fitchburg — that will share $80 million in new federal funding.

Whittier Street will receive $12 million and that money will be used to help build a new $32.6 million, 78,000 square-foot facility on Parcel 3 in Roxbury near Roxbury Community College. Though patient visits have increased by 35 percent over the last two years, Williams said the center is ill-equipped to provide for the increased need in services.

As it is now, the center serves 13,000 patients each year and has about 50,000 annual visits. But, as Williams explained, “we cannot reach them in our current limited space. Because of this new building we will be able to double the number of patients we see each year and provide over 100,000 health and wellness visits annually.”

By most accounts, Gov. Deval Patrick receives the lion-share of credit for bringing home the largest state allocation of White House stimulus funds aimed at helping community health centers. In addition to the Whittier Street funding, the Mattapan Health Center will receive $11.5 million and the Dorchester House Multi-Service Center will receive $7 million.

The other recipients are Community Health Connections, Inc. in Fitchburg, the East Boston Neighborhood health Center, the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center, the HealthFirst Family care Center, inc. in Fall River, and the Lowell Community Health Center.

“I worked very hard to get those funds from Washington,” Patrick said. “Health reform in Massachusetts depends on being able to deliver quality care in local settings… we are now ready to give local economies a boost, create jobs for today and tomorrow and support the vital mission of these centers as they continue to deliver first rate health services.”

The support for the new Whittier Street building is strong.

“This investment is a lifeline for people struggling to pay their bills, desperate for a job, or in need of healthcare services,” said Sen. Kerry. “It will create jobs while modernizing and renovating the health centers that our most vulnerable seniors, pregnant women and families depend on.”

Dr. Gary L. Gottlieb, president and CEO of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, called the infusion of stimulus dollars “a big step forward.”

The hospital had previously made a $2 million commitment to the new Whittier facility.