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In celebration of National Health Center Week, we thought we’d share the story of a health center we worked with recently. By taking a broad view of healthcare and embracing partnerships and collaborations at the core of their business, they’ve steadily transformed a Boston-area community.
A Story of Partnership and Collaboration: Codman Square Health Center
Imagine a family living in an ethnically diverse neighborhood in Dorchester, MA, where the poverty rate is 34% and unemployment levels are more than twice the national average. Now, imagine that family has access to a neighborhood institution offering a wide range of services:
- A health center to get primary care check-ups with translation in their native language
- A high-performing charter school
- A farmers market offering fresh fruits and vegetables by doctor’s “prescription”
- Credit counseling classes
- A nonprofit health club providing fitness classes at a subsidized rate
Codman Square Health Center has been just such an institution throughout its history. But it hasn’t gone it alone. At the center of Codman’s approach to the complex problems of poverty has been a commitment to partnership and collaboration. And as Codman prepares to grow, it finds that that commitment is more important than ever.
Healthcare and Beyond: A Collaborative Model
In 1979, Codman Square Health Center, a community based health care center, opened in Dorchester, one of Boston’s poorest communities. Today, the health center serves more than 20,000 patients annually with over 100,000 patient visits including primary care, urgent care, dental, eye care, public health education, and fitness/wellness programming. Codman Square Health Center provides multi-cultural and multi-lingual services to its community, and, as a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), receives federal funding for its work.
Over the years, leadership at Codman Square Health Center recognized that poverty was deeply rooted and required a variety of solutions, of which healthcare was just one. To address the others, Codman formed unique partnerships and collaborations.
Recognizing that high quality education was critical to overcoming poverty, Codman Academy Charter Public School was co-founded in 2001 by the health center’s co-founder, Bill Walczak. Codman Academy, serving over 140 high school students, is the first charter school located in a health center in the nation. The students not only outperform those at neighboring schools, but 100% have been accepted to college. Students do internships at the Health Center and the School has a wellness coordinator on staff.
Educating students isn’t the only goal. Another collaboration in action is DotWell, formed by Codman and a neighboring health center, Dorchester House Multi-Service Center in 1998. In addition to providing essential “back office” services to both health centers, DotWell administers public health education, new parent support groups, nutrition classes, computer training and personal finance coaching.
To promote preventative practices, Codman collaborated with Healthworks Community Fitness, a nonprofit fitness center that provides classes and youth programming at subsidized and sliding-scale rates.
This wide-ranging but integrated network of service organizations has allowed Codman to confront the challenge of delivering healthcare by connecting it to the broader struggle to alleviate poverty.
The investment in partnerships isn’t just talk; Codman has done it effectively, despite adversity, since the beginning. In a recent conversation Codman’s CEO, Sandra Cotterell, reflected on the challenges:
In our early years, resources in the community were so thin that community organizations had to rely upon one another to survive and begin rebuilding our neighborhood. Teamwork and community involvement were at the heart of the revitalization of the Dorchester community that had suffered so much in the 1960s and 70s primarily from racial strife and poverty. Our partner organizations share a similar vision for the health and flourishing of our community that requires access to high quality education, healthcare, and public services – our holistic culture of health. Communication … ensuring that all our partners are not working in silos or replicating efforts … is at the heart of our efforts and success. Nothing good and worth doing is ever easy, and managing and growing our partnerships and our collective vision takes a lot of work … but, with the success we have had, it has been well worth it.
A Bigger, Better Home: The Codman Square Health and Education Center
There is, of course, always more to do. Rising demand and a vision for a holistic engagement with the community demanded more space. But despite years of planning, a large federal grant and considerable fundraising effort, Codman still needed help closing the funding gap. So, NFF and several of our partners assembled the financing and New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) necessary to help Codman bring its facility plans to reality. Once complete (expected in Fall 2012), the project will serve an additional 5,000 patients (30,000 additional visits per year!) by adding 23 exam rooms, a new Family Medicine Suite, new Pediatric Suite, and two new Multi-Purpose Group Rooms. The community will be served by a black box theatre that will be available for shows, movies and community events. And Codman Academy, who previously leased four separate locations, will finally have a permanent home. The facility is expected to be LEED Gold certified and the health center expects to add up to 28 new full-time employees as operations ramp up.
Like Codman’s collaborative approach to serving its community, assembling the financing for this kind of critical community project also “takes a village.” CEO Sandra Cotterell recognizes the benefits that come through collaboration and partnerships:
[T]he partnerships, and spirit of collaboration, are what allowed us to be successful in bridging the financial gap to meet the needs of the project…. This project could not have been a success without all parts of the financing that were involved, and the extensive effort – as anyone will see once the building is completed – was well worth it.”
NFF salutes the work of Health Centers nationwide for National Health Center Week!
NFF provided NMTC for this project along with financing partners MHIC (NMTC), Cambridge Savings Bank (Bridge Financing), JPMorgan Chase (Investor). Learn more about our New Markets Tax Credit work here and our work with health care centers here.
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