By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – The new Caring Health Center facilities at 1049 Main St. in the South End are now open. Its president told Reminder Publications
the community health center would undertake a marketing campaign to attract new patients.
The facility opened on Jan. 13.
Although the nonprofit community health center has been in Springfield for 19 years, for the first time it will offer dental services in its downtown location as well as a host of expanded medical offerings.
President and CEO Tania Barber explained the renovation of several buildings on Main Street is a “true expansion” as the organization will maintain its original South End operations as well as its offices at the “X” in the Forest Park neighborhood. The organization’s office on Boston Road – which as served as an office for the WIC program – will also undergo a renovation in order so medical and dental services can be offered there as well.
The new 45,000 square-foot three-story complex will offer services such as sick visits, adolescent health care, pediatrics and adult medicine, immunizations, physicals, obstetrics and gynecology, refugee health assessments, nutrition program and both routine and emergency dental care.
She said the effort for a new building began in 2007 when former President Anne Awad bid on three buildings that had once been Hampden Furniture Showcase. From 2007 through 2009 the health center maintained the building as it raised the funds for the $20 million project.
Construction was complicated by the June 1, 2011 tornado, which not only damaged the existing health center facility across the street, but also to the site of the new building.
Currently the center serves 14,500 patients who make up 50,000 visits annually. The goal is to double those numbers over the next five years, Barber said. The current staff of 168 people would also double to meet patient need.
She added that besides recruiting patients, she is also looking to attract health providers such as doctors, dentists and nurses, among others, to come the center to practice in Springfield.
She admitted the challenge is that public insurance pays health providers less than private insurance in the region, making practicing in the Boston area more attractive.
Regardless of the pay differential, the needs of the patients are “great” in Springfield, Barber said.
Although the staff and patients are getting used to the new building, Barber said one part of it is still out of construction: a pharmacy the center will operate. She noted that people in the downtown neighborhoods do not have a pharmacy. The closest are either on upper State Street near Mason Square or in the center of Forest Park. She anticipated the new pharmacy will be open this summer.
She is also considering an expansion of hours into Saturday. Barber explained that urgent care clinics in the city might not accept Medicaid, there by forcing ill patients to seek treatment in emergency rooms.
Walking around the new 45,000 square foot facility, Barber pointed out 12 dental operatories with state of the art equipment and 30 medical treatment rooms, each with its own waiting room. There is a lab on-site, an office area for the WIC program and a wellness center with a teaching kitchen that will be used by staff, patients and members of the community.
The new center is across the street from the center of the proposed MGM casino site and Barber said the center is anticipating “what it can do for the employees.” She said she hopes the drug screening services the center could offer MGM for its employees may be attractive to the company and that the new pharmacy would be convenient for the employees.
For more information on the center, go to www.caringhealth.org