Health Center Still Going Strong after 50 Years

It’s been 50 years since the Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center (HSNHC) first opened its doors and it has yet to turn down a patient.

HSNHC opened in 1969 as part of the Boston Department of Health on Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester. In 1976, it became an independent nonprofit and moved several doors down. 

This year, the center plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary with two events. One is a fund-raising gala on October 4 at the Exchange in Boston to recognize donors and others who have worked closely with the center, including founding CEO Lorraine Baugh. It will also hold a community health fair September 7 at Franklin Park, across from its headquarters. 

According to the center’s mission statement, everyone deserves high-quality health care. The center, which helps people get medical insurance, also receives funding for those who can’t pay, using a sliding fee scale based on income. 

“It is our call to help communities get better-quality health care,” said Kathy Best, chief performance and strategy officer, who became involved with HSNHC in 1990 after completing her bachelor’s degree at Alabama State University. “We have been a voice for this community.”

Former US Senator Edward Kennedy worked to get funding for a national system of community health centers, HSNHC being one of them. His mission was quality health care for as many Americans as possible.

The center has a pharmacy, OB/GYN department, pediatric center, food pantry, dental clinic, veterans center, behavioral health department and more. Employees help clients secure housing, employment, food, and basic social services. 

The center’s regulations require that 51 percent of the board of directors, who are responsible for setting policy, have to be patients. Because the center is in the community it serves, it seeks direct feedback to make improvements.

“I am held accountable for issues here because I live here,” said Best, who was born and raised just two streets from the center.

When asked how the center can help with stress, she told patients about the center’s stretch yoga and meditation classes. When a community member was shot on Pasadena Road in Dorchester, its Neighborhood Trauma Team reached out to the family. 

The center reports data to the government in order to receive its federal funding. In the ‘90s, the health center’s community had a higher infant mortality rate than many third world countries. Through special programs the center created, it successfully decreased the infant mortality rate in the area. 

The center also created programs that have addressed the crack and opioid epidemics and other public health issues. 

In 2017, the center began extensive renovations under Stan A. McLaren, the incoming president and CEO, giving it a facelift because, Best said, “this community deserves to have world-class service.”

The center has received awards for the quality of its service. It’s able to respond to problems and patient needs in a timely manner.

Best left the center twice for other jobs, but returned because “the vibe of this place never leaves you.” Once you start, Best said, you “can never leave the health center.”

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