Growth in work at Dorchester House

By 
Sue Asci
Dec. 16, 2009

Massachusetts community health centers, including ones in Dorchester and Mattapan, hit the stimulus jackpot recently in receiving the highest amounts in federal funding of any state in the country. Eight proposals from across the state received grants totaling $80 million.
At the same time, the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers is working with the state to identify other avenues of funding for those projects that didn’t get funded.
Joel Abrams, center, president and CEO of Dorchester House, discusses his center’s successful stimulus funding proposal with Director of Development Jessica Loew, right, and Ira Schlosser, Director of Planning and Community Affairs.Joel Abrams, center, president and CEO of Dorchester House, discusses his center’s successful stimulus funding proposal with Director of Development Jessica Loew, right, and Ira Schlosser, Director of Planning and Community Affairs.

“I am deeply grateful to the Obama administration and our partners in the congressional delegation for recognizing the integral role the center plays in our health care delivery system and the quality, affordable care it provides to some of our most vulnerable residents,” said Gov. Deval Patrick.

The Dorchester House Multi-Service Center was given $7.4 million in stimulus funds to expand and upgrade its 1353 Dorchester Avenue facility and the Mattapan Community Health Center received $11.5 million, much of which will be directed to the construction of an enlarged center in Mattapan square.

The Codman Square Health Center’s application was not funded, a denial that helped prompt the league into searching for additional funding.
The Dorchester House’s plans are laid out in its proposal – “The Doctor Can See You NOW Project” – and they include the construction of a 17,900 square foot building adjacent to the existing center, which officials estimate will increase access to primary care physicians for about 5,500 new patients per year and an additional 22,000 patient visits per year.

“We need more clinical space to meet the growing demand,” said Joel Abrams, president and chief executive officer of Dorchester House, which he said means more space for exams.

The new building will provide space for administrative offices, wellness services, and some clinical services. The current center will be renovated to increase the number of exam rooms by 15 to a total of 48, expand urgent care services and add to the size of the pharmacy and lab. The project also includes upgrading the center’s radiology and mammography equipment to digital technology.

Dorchester House has a staff of 320 and the grant money infusion will allow for the addition of 22 full-time jobs, including four physicians, as well as mid-level providers and support staff. Currently, the center has 15 full-time physicians.

Without the expansion, current and future patient demand translates into long waits for appointments. “In some cases, patients have to wait three weeks or more to get an appointment,” Abrams said. “What we want to able to do is try to increase access for whenever people really want to be seen whether that is through walk-in service or by appointments. We are hoping that you could be seen within a day when you call for an appointment.”

Since the center began offering urgent care five months ago, demand has grown, Abrams said. “The grant will allow us to expand hours around urgent care. We will be able to have walk-in service on Sundays,” he said. The economy and health care reform will continue to drive the increased demand, he added.

“As there are more restrictions placed on people using hospital emergency rooms for non-emergencies, the demand for services in the community will rise,” he said. “There is more unemployment. People know that the health center is available to them and this is a place where they can receive quality care.”

With the total cost for the project estimated at $11 million, Dorchester House is now focused on raising the additional $4 million. “We have some reserves. We are going to have to raise money,” Abrams said. “We are looking at different financing options. Then we will decide whether we want to do a classic capital fundraising campaign.”
The center is putting together an internal and external project team and beginning the process of securing an architect, project manager, and contractor. “We hope to have it all finished within two years,” Abrams said.