Guidance from health center leader: 'Don't just show up, call ahead'

Chuck Jones

The leader who oversees several Dorchester health centers has a message for patients today: Call ahead, don't just show up.

Chuck Jones is the President and CEO of Harbor Health Services, the umbrella organization that includes Neponset's Daniel Driscoll Health Center on Neponset Avenue, the Elder Service Plan on Morton Street in Mattapan and the Geiger-Gibson Health Center on Columbia Point.

Jones and his team are busy coordinating with public health officials at the city and state level for an eventual role in triaging and testing CONVID-19 patients. But Jones is quick to note that Harbor Health's facilities are not equipped to handle patients who may be suffering from Coronavirus.

"We’re not a hospital," said Jones. "We don’t have ventilators or ICUs. We’re working on how to maintain care for our communities— everything asthma and diabetes patients. Because their chronic diseases don’t take a vacation when Coronavirus hits."

"We are getting a lot of calls from patients who are understandably concerned and have flu-like symptoms. Those we are trying to handle via phone. The health center isn’t the right place for them to be right now," said Jones.

Places like Neponset Health Center, for example, do not have diagnostic kits on hand presently to test for CONVID-19, Jones says. When test kits are deployed in large quantities, he and his team are working to develop protocols and even alternate sites to help administer and process tests.

But those supplies are not in hand — yet.

"We would like to play a role in performing the screenings," Jones told the Reporter, adding that he and his team hope their staff will be part of satellite testing, perhaps modeled on "drive-through" tests that are being done elsewhere in the United States.

Until then,"We really don’t want people coming in if they are symptomatic. All of the triaging is being done over the phone."

"We obviously have this public health crisis going on right now, but we also have thousands of patients we provide care for in each of our communities and these patients need to continue to have access to care. We are doing everything we can to make sure those patients continue to receive care in a safe manner. Our message to them is: please don’t discontinue your care. Give us a call, particularly if they have anxiety and we can talk them through what were doing to keep them safe during their visit."

Of particular concern for Jones and his team is the Elder Service Plan in Mattapan, which strictly works with an elderly population of about 500 people in Dorchester, Mattapan and surrounding neighborhoods. Many of them come into the Mattapan facility daily —or at least weekly— for activities, wellness and medical care though the PACE program.

"Unlike our health center, every participant in our PACE program is older and medically complex. Our protolols there are particularly thoughtful around protecting this population. We are starting to be much more restrictive about who we bring into our day center and ramping up in-home care capabilities quite a bit."

"Any care that would have happened on site still needs to happen," said Jones. "We are not expecting decrease in access to care. We will need to provide it in different way."

For more information— and for phone numbers to call ahead before a visit— go to the Harbor Health Services website.