Guest Author: Zoila Torres Feldman, RN, MSc HP&M
Chief Expansion Officer at North End Waterfront Health | Boston, MA
During National Health Center Week, we honor and recognize all of the diverse communities and special populations Health Centers across the country provide with high-quality, affordable, and culturally competent care. Today, in recognition of Public Housing Health Day, we are honoring the thousands of residents of public housing that health centers serve.
Why must we and why do we need to care for families in public housing?
Not by choice but because of poverty the elderly, disabled, pregnant, teenagers, children, and adults who live in public housing face many health disparities and barriers. Just getting by is a challenge; many people living in public housing have difficulty simply traveling throughout the city, walking and playing safely, and accessing affordable fresh produce. In fact, when it comes to getting a flu shot or other vaccines or just making an appointment to check on their diabetes or asthma, many residents of public housing have to change buses several times, and they often depend on the good will of church workers to take them to the ER.
Community health centers such as North End Waterfront Health (NEW Health) understand that people living in public housing suffer from the same medical, oral, and behavioral illnesses that everyone else does, but we recognize that the environmental, emotional, educational, and employment barriers and challenges that many public housing families face require thoughtful, compassionate, culturally and linguistically competent responses designed to cure disease, prevent maladies, and reach the state of good health that we all deserve.
NEW Health has served Boston’s neighborhood and continuous community for over forty years. Historically an early implementer, NEW Health achieved NCQA PCMH level-3 status in 2013 at our main site in the North End, and Joint Commission PCMH at our main site in 2012 and at a satellite site at Charlestown High School Health Center in 2015.
Charlestown, another Boston neighborhood, houses the largest public housing development in New England, where 4,500 of a total of 16,000 residents receive federal or state housing subsidy. NEW Health is working to open a satellite health center, NEW Health Charlestown, in the heart of a the development where we will implement a primary care/public health care model fashioned after successful federally funded public housing programs. A fully integrated primary care/behavioral health/oral health/ vision program, the NEW Health Charlestown initiative will be staffed by multilingual physicians, dentists, therapists, nurses, case managers, and community health workers. The services will be specific to the identified morbidity and mortality indicators of the two target census tracts including Opioid addiction, hepatitis C, Chlamydia, (the most rampant STI in Boston) and the perceived bio/psycho/social needs of the residents. Focused on prevention and wellness, NEW Health Charlestown will work with teenagers to implement violence prevention and conflict resolution initiatives. Already implemented at the local high school, NEW Health Charlestown will expand its successful intervention with disabled girls aimed at helping them to recognize and respond to advances of sexual predators. Collaborating with the Tenants Association, the Housing Authority, the local Church, and The Kennedy Center (a social services and day care center program), NEW Health Charlestown has begun its outreach to enroll residents eligible for insurance coverage before even opening its doors. We also provide health education and eligibility assessment and insurance enrollment at the Housing Authority, $2.00 food bags distribution every other week as well as at other agencies or resident’s sponsored events.
By offering services tailored to their unmet needs, NEW Health Charlestown will join public housing residents in their own efforts to solve community problems and create a healthy environment for children and families. There’s nothing more essential to the Health Center model or mission than listening to the voices of the community to design and deliver care to meet their own needs – and there is nothing more representative of NEW Health Charlestown commitment to the people of the public housing community in Charlestown.