When the young Dr. Anthony Bonacci walked through the doors of the Bowdoin Street Health Center at 222 Bowdoin Street, (that building now houses the Log School), he only intended to stay for one year. He ended up staying for 35, outlasting three building changes and becoming the centerpiece for a community health center that has developed into an important institution in the Bowdoin/Geneva community. Though, Bonacci would downplay his role.
"It's not a one man job. You can't do it without all these other people," said Bonacci as he highlighted multiple members of an exhaustive staff list that he thinks this story should have been written about.
The fact that Dr. Bonacci is so community-minded has contributed to the success of the health center over the past 35 years. The center provides services to a large number of patients, which sometimes means extended hours for Dr. Bonacci.
"[He is] always willing to accommodate patients who are sick or come late," says Rose O'Brien, clinical nurse and head of all diabetes education programs. "He'll tell the staff to go home and he'll finish up late. He sometimes even gives his own vaccines."
Bonacci has been employed as a pediatrician with the Bowdoin Street Health Center since its inception and remains its longest standing employee. In 1972, when Bonacci entered the house-turned health center as a pediatrician, community and social activism were at their peak all over the nation. It was the middle of the Vietnam War, the Black Power movement was at its height, and street rioting was a popular response to injustice. It was no surprise that community health centers were blooming, in response to inadequate or unattainable health care.
"Thirty-five years ago people in the community said, 'We want healthcare in our neighborhood; we don't want to go to the emergency room,'" said Bonacci.
Dr. Harvey Bidwell, M.D. began working with Dr. Bonacci at 222 Bowdoin Street in 1975. The doctors and the center used whatever resources they could afford, which included a meat scale to weigh babies. He describes the atmosphere of the health centers being formed at the time as "people finding spaces they could and finding doctors that could."
"There was a lot less primary care in the neighborhood. Throughout Boston and the nation there was a sense or need of getting primary care for people," said Bidwell.
Bidwell worked at the health center from 1975 to 1978 and cited the influence of Dr. Bonacci has as his reason for returning three years ago.
Dr. Bonacci is very well liked by his staff and patients. Many of his patients couldn't even put into words the qualities they so love about him. He is commonly referred to as "the best doctor in the world," in all sincerity. His concern for the community and people are apparent in his gentle demeanor and his face, which always wears a smile. He was even the first person patient Karen Mejia invited to her Quinceanera, a traditional coming of age party for young Hispanic women.
"I feel like he's part of the family," says Karen's mother, Carmen Mejia, a patient services representative.