Elder care health facility to open soon on Frank Wood site

A Morton Street property that formerly served as a retirement and convalescent home for retired workers in the printing industry will soon become a full service elder care health facility.

The facility, a familiar landmark at 1135 Morton Street at the foot of Codman Hill, was once the home of the Frank Wood Home, a 62-bed facility that operated for four decades until closing in the mid-1990s. The property was purchased in 2007 by the Dorchester-based Harbor Health Services Inc. at a cost of $4.25 million.

Upon completion of current state inspections, the 42,000- square foot facility will become the new home of Harbor Health’s Elder Service Plan (ESP) after an extensive renovation and expansion costing almost $10 million. The program, which has operated since 1996 in rented space in Lower Mills, is expected to open within the next month.

Harbor Health CEO Dan Driscoll said in an interview that the move, which had been planned for five years, will allow the program to increase the number of senior citizen patients it serves. “The main reason is to allow for the expansion of the Elder Services Plan.” Driscoll said. “We are currently in the former St. Gregory’s High School building. We have grown from a handful of patients to 330 today, and we’re beyond the size of that building.”

The plan allow elders to remain living at home by centralizing the needed health services in the neighborhood. The services are customized to the particular needs of the participant and are coordinated by a team of providers in the medical, rehabilitation, recreational, social services, pharmacy, and dietary areas.

“To get in the program you have to be frail and be over 55,” Driscoll explained. “If the state determines you are a frail elder, and that’s who this program is aimed at, then Medicaid and Medicare would give us a capitation payment each month, which we then put in the bank. From that we pay for all your medical expenses, either by buying it, for example at Carney Hospital, or providing it, which is the case of primary care.”

Driscoll said the program “is a combination of a very small HMO, because we are the insurer of these patients, as well as a service provider. We have a small health center within the service plan where doctors and nurses and therapists work with patients. Any other service that is provided by Medicaid or Medicare we either have to provide it with our own staff or purchase it,” he said. “Adult day health is what you physically see when you first walk in, but behind that there’s a whole insurance mechanism.”

A brochure about the program states that ESP offers enrolled patients a full array of services, including primary medical care, home health services, adult day health, rehabilitation programs, transportation, medications, hospitalizations, meal programs, durable medical equipment, and family caregiver support.

It explains it is modeled after a concept called PACE (Program All-inclusive Care for the Elderly,) developed in 1973 in San Francisco to address the concerns that elders wanted to stay in their homes and communities; that many elders were not getting the services to make them successful at home; and that they frequently fell through the cracks, due to the fragmentation of the health care system. PACE's goal is to maximize the health and functioning levels of participants, enabling them to continue living in the comfort of their own homes and in the community.

“There are only about 55 of these programs in the country.” Driscoll said. “They have been around for a while but they’re a small part of the picture. The work is so intensive that it’s contrary to the idea of the program to have five, ten or fifteen thousand people – you couldn’t give them the individualized care. A doctor in private care might have 1,200 or 1,500 active patients. A doctor at the elder service plan only has 125 – that’s a full time doctor with two nurse practitioners, a home health nurse, and all the other staff.”

He said currently there are about 300 patients in the program, and there is a waiting list of 60. “That was part of the impetus to get larger space; we feel we can go up to 500 or 600 patients,” he said.
This month, Harbor Health relocated its administrative offices into the building, consolidating such services as billing, IT, HR and executive offices from three rented locations around Dorchester.

Soon, Driscoll said, some 60 employees of the ESP staff, including director Carol Crawford, will welcome the patients in the new space. “As the agency grows we will have to add people in accounting and human resources and patient billing; there will be job opportunities here,” he said. “This is an area that needed to develop more jobs, and one of the lenders earned a tax credit for job creation. As they grow there will be employment opportunities for new positions, from health aides to physicians.”

In addition to the Elder Service Plan, the non profit Harbor Heath agency owns and operates two Dorchester health centers, Neponset and Geiger Gibson; an infant toddler program at Columbia Point; and a WIC program across Dorchester. It also owns two Cape Cod facilities, Mid-Upper Cape Community Health Center and the Ellen Jones Dental Center.

More information about the Elder Service Plan is available online at elderserviceplan.org.