Community Health and Well-Being

Responding to the suburbanization of health care that was drawing medical professionals from urban areas to the suburbs in the 1960s, Boston was the first city in the United States to develop a series of community-based health care centers and, eventually, an entire health care network designed to meet the specific needs of the populations of the neighborhoods they served.


Some of these centers have grown to be anchors of entire communities, providing not only high quality health care, but meeting places and economic engines. In the process, they have provided models that have been replicated across the country.

The First Community-Centered Neighborhood Health Center

The year was 1967, and the place was the Columbia Point Housing Development in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. At the time, Columbia Point was one of the most unstable housing developments in Boston—its residents some of the poorest and most disenfranchised. That year, Dr. H. Jack Geiger (Western Reserve University School of Medicine) and Dr. Count D. Gibson (Emory University) opened a health center that was designed differently than all existing health center models in the United States. The focus of their new program was to combine community-oriented public health interventions with civil rights and community empowerment.
Columbia Point went far beyond existing health centers by aiming for active—rather than passive—
health care, involving the participation of all community members who entered the door. The Center’s ultimate goal was to bring about a full range of social development in marginalized communities. The Columbia Point Health Center became the first urban health care center of what today is a broad network of community health care centers spread across the United States.

The First Network of Health Centers

Today, Boston’s 26 neighborhood health centers make up a vast network of nonprofit community-based organizations, serving more than one million patients throughout the city. They not only provide health care, but function as engines of local economic growth, generating over 6,400 jobs and stimulating more than $345 million in economic output every year.
This innovative network provides culturally-sensitive, comprehensive primary and preventive health care—including medical, dental, social, and mental health services—to anyone in need, regardless of medical status or ability
to pay. The network has achieved high standards
of performance—a fact acknowledged and applauded by the medical community. National studies indicate that
every dollar invested in community health centers provides an average savings
of three dollars to the overall health care system. Comprehensive case management, 340b (“best price”) pharmacy programs, and aggressive chronic disease management are examples of preventive care models which have helped to minimize emergency room visits and preventable hospitalizations among low-income patients.
In fact, based on a recent study by the Neighbor-hood Health Plan, patients served by community health centers have fewer hospital admissions, hospital days, and emergency room visits than patients who received their health care from hospital-based primary care sites. In addition, community health centers have provided a source of stable employment for local residents, generating direct economic output, revitalizing businesses, and providing employment for neighborhood residents.
One of the most effective health centers in Boston, Codman Square Health Center, is a case in point. Evidence of progress in the entire neighborhood is visible, quantifiable, even breathtaking: increased commerce, more jobs, rehabbed buildings, cleaner streets, reduced crime, a welcoming atmosphere, social uplift, and growing pride. Codman Square Health Center, like dozens of others across Boston, is providing excellence in healthcare while also serving as community-building organization.

Codman Square Health Center is part of the country’s first networkof health centers