In 2008, Mayor Thomas M. Menino convened a summit of Boston’s leading healthcare, academic, policy, and community leaders to address primary care access in the city. As a result of that summit, Mayor Menino formed the Mayor’s Task Force on Improving Access to Primary Care in Boston, which created a set of recommendations that have served as a roadmap to increase access, improve quality, and integrate public health efforts with the primary care system.
Since 2010, the Mayoral Prize for Innovations in Primary Care has recognized Boston-based organizations that are transforming the primary care landscape and improving our city’s health in three settings – Healthcare, the Community, and the Workplace. As Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s tenure concludes, we catch up with past winners to learn not only what the Mayoral Prize has meant to them, but also to learn what further achievements they have made since accepting the award.
Starting as a “well-baby” clinic in 1933, Whittier Street Health Center (WSHC) has grown into an accredited urban community health center with the mission to offer quality, accessible and reliable primary care services to over 18,500 diverse Boston residents. With over 30 different health programs available, WSHC offers comprehensive, coordinated primary care, dental, optical and behavioral health services, while supporting community-based wellness opportunities to meet the specific needs of its patients.
Whittier Street Health Center’s Building Vibrant Communities (BVC) in the Boston Public Housing program is a three-year, Kresge Foundation-funded Safety Net project designed to address the increasing prevalence of chronic disease among residents living in five public housing developments, making primary and preventive care more accessible to its most at-risk community members. Developed after a nine-month assessment and planning process, the BVC program was carried out to combat increasing rates of chronic disease seen in youths and adults from public housing. According to the project assessment data, a higher percentage of adult public housing residents suffered from chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and depression compared to Boston adult residents overall. Among public housing residents, African American women were shown to have a much greater risk for these conditions, indicating a significant health disparity even among public housing residents.
In addition, WSHC also identified three major barriers for public-housing residents to lead more healthy and active lives: unemployment, exposure to neighborhood violence, and increased stress levels. To engage residents and to challenge these barriers, the BVC program provides “Social Health Coordinators” who live in each housing site, serving as a resource for quick access to primary care, helping residents become advocates for their own health. The BVC project also provides an on-site nurse, a nutritionist, an exercise specialist, and a life-coach while offering onsite screenings, health education classes, and care referrals.
With public housing residents being more prone to stress, depression, and domestic violence, the BVC program also provides the appropriate resources, skills, and support for residents to overcome feelings of despair and lack of control over their life, enabling them to take personal initiative in adopting healthy behaviors.
Since winning the 2011 Mayoral Prize in a Community Setting, WSHC has made considerable progress, including the development of the Boston Health Equity Project (BHEP), a city-wide partnership with local health centers, hospitals, and healthcare organizations who share the common goal of addressing health inequities in Boston. BHEP’s main principles are health engagement, comprehensive care, and wellness support for Boston’s most vulnerable residents with goals to increase access to cancer and chronic disease screenings in addition to improving health education throughout the community.
Furthermore, after completing a thorough self-evaluation, WSHC has also developed its “5-year dashboard” for BHEP that outlines measurable goals in enhancing current care provisions by 2017. By following the dashboard, WSHC aims to increase adult cancer screening rates compared to the national average and to improve patient self-care management for chronic diseases. Additionally, WSHC’s pediatric care providers and their Quality Assurance department are developing a strategy to engage more youth in pediatric care, particularly those diagnosed as overweight, and their families. They are also looking at cost-effective approaches to keeping patients out of the ER and reducing readmission rates.
Whittier Street has acquired more efficient resource coordination with the help of community partners with the hopes of improving the self-efficacy of public housing residents, giving them the confidence and know-how to seek jobs and to overcome personal obstacles to wellness. Through this innovation and Whittier Street’s ongoing efforts, they have assisted public housing residents in a multitude of ways: through offering consistent, quality care that is always improving, taking the health of the community beyond just the clinical setting; and educating the community at their doorstep so residents are equipped to manage their own health.