A new name for the Neponset Health Center

Freda Nolan, Dan Driscoll, Jean Hunt, and Jim Hunt, Jr. are shown outside the newly renamed Daniel Driscoll-Neponset Health Center last Friday. Bill Forry photo.

If Dorchester is the birthplace of the nation’s community health center movement, then Dan Driscoll is certainly one of its founding fathers. So it is altogether fitting that Driscoll’s name now adorns the front of the health center in Neponset that he ran for three decades.

Last Friday, after a brief ceremony inside, Dan and his wife Sheila stood outside the building with a small gathering of family and longtime friends, some of them board members of the center. He looked at his own name in white lettering against the red brick and smiled.

Back in 1977, when Driscoll arrived for his first day on the job as administrator of the Neponset Health Center, the place was in turmoil. He was hired by a group of neighbors from Port Norfolk and Neponset, who had had lost confidence in an earlier and were deeply divided themselves.

The board hired Driscoll, who quickly righted the ship and built confidence in the merits of community health centers in this part of the city. He was so successful that within the decade, he and his Neponset team were asked to take over operations at the nation’s first health center on Columbia Point, now known as Geiger-Gibson, named for the doctors who conceived of the care model in 1965.

Dan took on the challenge, pulled Geiger-Gibson from the brink of receivership and, in 1990, created a new entity— Harbor Health Services, Inc.— to manage the two centers and, later, other facilities on Cape Cod and in Mattapan.

By the end of his tenure last year, when Driscoll decided to retire, Harbor Health had grown to a staff of 550 people with a budget of $72 million.

James W. Hunt, Jr., who recruited Driscoll to come to Dorchester back in the ‘70s, now serves as president and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. Hunt and his wife Jean – both stalwart Neponset activists and parents of Dorchester state Rep. Dan Hunt – were on hand Friday to salute their friend. Jean was chair of the board when Driscoll started his career at Neponset and was pivotal in helping him to guide the center onto a new track. Driscoll saluted her in his brief remarks, saying: “Jean Hunt was president of the board during the only period where there was genuine board strife. And she stepped in when the board was not as we know it today. She healed that board and I’ve always been grateful to Jean for that.”

Other longtime friends, including former state Senator W. Paul White, longtime Neponset Center employee Freda Nolan, and Larry Feeney, the present chairman of the board of directors, who has been the longest serving leader on the Harbor Health board, attended the ceremony.

Chuck Jones, who took charge as the CEO of Harbor Health earlier this year, was also on hand to “applaud the board’s decision to re-name the health center in recognition of Dan’s long service.”

Driscoll has been recognized for his work by just about every national and local organization in the community health center space, including the National Association of Community Health Center’s prestigious John Gilbert Award for Meritorious Service in Community Health. But putting his name on the Neponset building is certainly the most meaningful honor a community can bestow— and Dan Driscoll, a humble and effective leader, is most deserving of the honor.