By Michael S. Rohde
In 1972, Mark Masselli — along with some Wesleyan University friends and healthcare advocates in Middletown — formed a fledgling free clinic for those in need of dental care. They had the fundamental belief that “healthcare was a right and not a privilege” and further based their belief on the “respect and dignity” for those they served.
This small spark grew into a flame as this tiny health center continued to grow and prosper. Today Community Health Center Inc. is a federally qualified statewide system of primary care for low income and special populations (serving over 145,000 patients across Connecticut in 220 service locations with a yearly budget of $123 million).
The origins of Meriden’s Community Health Center began in 1990 when Community Health Center President Masselli approached city officials with an offer they couldn’t refuse: to take over the Merri-Care Dental Program at no cost to the city. This popular dental program, housed on the second floor of the Meriden Health Department, was fully funded by the city budget at the time. This offer was gladly accepted by the city making this initiative the first expansion of the Community Health Center (CHC) into Meriden.
In the years to follow, Masselli acquired and combined two buildings at 134 State St. opening 40,000 square feet of renovated space for primary care — establishing the Meriden Community Health Center to serve residents of the area.
Today, CHC serves 16,000 Meriden patients (one-fourth of Meriden’s population) and has become, along with MidState Medical Center, a central resource for healthcare in the city.
CHC provides medical care, behavioral health services, and dental services to patients of all ages, focusing on low income and special populations. The center also operates school-based health clinics in eleven Meriden public schools providing a mix of medical and behavioral health services.
The clinics are staffed with Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNS) who can diagnose medical conditions as well as prescribe medications. This enables many students to remain in school while receiving treatment, negating the need for working parents to leave work and tend to their children.
In the school-based health clinics, certified clinical social workers are also available to address mental health issues that arise. These staff members work closely with public school staff to ensure that a wide range of resources are available, as needed, by students.
The statewide Community Health Center has grown to be one of the largest and most sophisticated systems of primary care in the country — influencing community health care far beyond Connecticut with cutting-edge technology. This includes electronic records and patient access to their health records, tele-health and internet connection with specialists for consultation, and new innovation based on research and best practices.
The Weitzman Institute is an important part of CHC in developing a world-class primary healthcare system. This research arm of CHC provides “inspiring primary care innovation dedicated to quality improvement and research in primary care to ensure that effective, efficient, equitable primary care is available to all.”
The first week of August is National Health Center Week nationwide. “For more than 50 years, underserved communities and vulnerable populations have relied on the primary and preventive care options Community Health Centers provide. During National Health Center Week, we reflect on the important role that health centers have played in delivering the comprehensive care all people deserve.”
As part of National Health Center Week, CHC of Meriden is hosting a Health Fair on the Meriden Green on Thursday August 8 from 11 am to 2 pm. There will be free lunches for all children, games and prizes, and other activities. Several nonprofits will be on hand to provide information about health and wellness, and CHC staff will provide information tables about their services, as well.
Please join us. It is a free event, and great fun for the entire family.
Michael S. Rohde is a former Meriden city councilor and mayor, and director of community relations for the Community Health Center, Inc.