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