$7m federal grant helping Dot House expand its services

The Dorchester House Multi-Service Center has begun work on an expansion project fueled in large part by a $7 million federal stimulus grant that green-lighted the project last year. The new wing of the center will include a walk-in/urgent care clinic with 18 new examination rooms for primary and urgent care, a larger clinic pharmacy and laboratory. In total, between renovations and expansions, the project will transform about 40,000-square feet into more spacious and more accessible departments of the Dorchester Ave. health center.

Health center president and CEO Joel Abrams was joined by Mayor Thomas M. Menino and other officials on October 26th to break ground on the construction job for what’s been dubbed “The Doctor Will See You NOW!” project.

About 25,000-square feet of existing space will be renovated in order to separate administrative offices from clinical rooms. The other 15,000-square feet of new space will result in 25,000 to 26,000 more patient visits annually and provide access and services for 6,600 new patients.

Part of the expansion will make room for a Wellness Center. As “part of our continuum of support,” as Director of Planning and Community Affairs Ira Schlosser puts it, the main addition adjacent to the gym will be used primarily for yoga, taichi (for seniors, too) and exercise classes. New rooms will feature flexible use for dance and physical activities, and will have curtains for more private holistic services such as therapeutic massage, aromatherapy and other non-clinical wellness programs.

The NOW! Project would not have been put into motion as quickly if the Dot House had not been one of eight Massachusetts health centers who received funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The news came as a pleasant surprise, since the expansion plans weren’t fully “shovel-ready” when the grant came down.

“That changed our whole world,” Abrams says. “Reality has now set in and we now have to get this done. A lot of things have fallen into place and we’re on track.”

Since its inception in 1887, the Dot House has played a vital role in the community.

“We intend to see it continue that way and this project certainly helps us deliver on that commitment,” says Abrams. He is well-versed in healthcare. After graduating college in Boston, Abrams launched his career in community-based healthcare, working for the cost and quality division of Medicaid, starting up the Tufts Health Plan with four colleagues and developing his expertise further at Dana Farber, among other Boston healthcare institutions.

“I finally landed in a place that felt like home,” Abrams says of Dot House as he heads into his 24th year at the helm.

According to Abrams, being the provider of choice for the neighborhood and being able to fully integrate clinical with non-clinical care are his two top goals for the Dot House. Increasing the effectiveness of its partnership with the Codman Square Health Center — DotWell— is also an important objective.

“We hope we will be a model for other organizations in their neighborhoods - to collaborate, create partnerships, weave together these partnerships and to keep improving on that,” Abrams said.

Originally a boys’ institution, the Dot House eventually opened its activities and programs to people of any age and gender. The Gordon House, as it was known for its first 20 years of operation (it was previously located at 7 Gordon St. in Fields Corner), became the Dorchester House in November 1909 and gave the community resources such as a library, reading rooms, baby clinics, and shoe repair as well as a place for social gatherings and classes for such things as savings and gardening.

The Dot House moved to its current location on Dorchester Avenue on January 31, 1942 and was housed in a renovated building on two acres of land, bordering Dorchester Ave., Leedsville St. and Ellet St. In 1974, the new building was constructed on the same site, housing a health center, pre-school/daycare center, and a community center. In response to the demand for health services, a second floor was added in 1978 to include a dental office and to increase medical and mental health services.

A two-year complete renovation of the health center was launched in 2000, adding a third floor and increasing the number of clinical exam rooms from 19 to 33. The pharmacy was added about a year later. Mammography, optical service and a new dental facility also were offered in the new space. The remodeling allowed improvements on the Dot House’s outdoor aesthetic as well; the 25,000-square foot facelift brightened the institution’s entrance and made it more accessible.

“People should have an attractive, state-of-the-art facility that offers the highest quality care and our health providers come out of some of the best residencies. [The renovation is] a great testament to our top-notch care, an external expression,” Abrams says.

For more information about the Dorchester House and the NOW! Project, visit dorchesterhouse.org.