Geiger Gibson easing off its practice of primary care

Citing changing demographics in the Columbia Point neighborhood, the Geiger Gibson Community Health Center started this week focusing on walk-ins and same-day service with primary care shifting to the Neponset Health Center.

The first urban community health center in the US, Geiger Gibson will maintain dental, foot, and eye care, but the four primary care doctors who have been stationed there will be spending more time over at the Neponset facility, according to Daniel Driscoll, president and CEO of Harbor Health Services, which oversees Geiger Gibson and Neponset.

Driscoll said that Geiger Gibson, which has a high walk-in rate, has experienced little growth over the last few years, and with a dwindling number of patients, it has become harder for the health center to maintain a full level of service. “The demographics in that place don’t support that approach anymore,” he said.

Records at the health center, which was founded in 1965 and is located at 250 Mt. Vernon St., show that 13 to 14 percent of its patients are from Columbia Point, a sharp drop from the 50 percent of 15 years ago and the almost 100 percent clientele number when the health center opened in the 1960s, according to Driscoll.

Columbia Point was a different place then: A housing project dominated the neighborhood and the relocation of UMass Boston from Park Square was nearly a decade away. Today, most housing on Columbia Point is market rate, converted from affordable housing in the 1990s, and many of the residents are students who go to UMass Boston, a commuter school that has its own health services available on campus.

According to city estimates, 2,900 residents live in the Harbor Point community, and 380 residents live in the luxury Peninsula apartments. It’s likely that about a fourth of those residents are UMass students, according to the university. The number is likely to grow, with UMass plans to eventually build dorms in the neighborhood.

Most Geiger Gibson patients come from other parts of Dorchester, and South Shore communities like Quincy, Randolph, Braintree, and Weymouth.

Some of the primary care providers will be staffing Geiger Gibson, but only for a few days a week. Patients who call for an appointment the day before or the night before won’t notice much of a difference in service, and nurse practitioners will be available, Driscoll said.

If patients end up needing to be treated for more than a day, follow-up visits will occur at the Neponset Health Center and low-income patients who live in Columbia Point will be provided with cab service to Neponset, Driscoll said.

UMass officials are exploring ways to partner with Geiger Gibson. “What we’re doing right now is evaluating how we can collaborate more,” said Dr. Kathleen Golden McAndrew, assistant vice chancellor and executive director of health services at UMass Boston.

Her health services see 12,000 students a year, mostly for primary care. They have nurse practitioners, psychologists, and social workers, she said.

McAndrew said UMass health services are not available 24 hours a day – their offices are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. – and university officials are interested in highlighting Geiger Gibson as an after-hours option. “They’re a great operation,” she said.