City Health Center great resource for families

Established in October, the Gloucester Family Health Center at 302 Washington St. offers a broad scope of services uniquely tailored to care for the local community.
The new Gloucester center is the fourth site of its parent company, North Shore Community Health Inc., which operates three other locations in Salem and Peabody. The non-profit organizations receive both Medicaid and Medicare funding and are overseen by a board of directors, half of whom are consumers. “It’s a beautiful facility,” says Dr. Robert Hendershott, Ed. D. who oversees all four practices. “It’s the kind of spot people can come to and feel comfortable.”
The Cape Ann site has become one of a network of 1,200 Federally-qualified health centers that serve up to 18 million persons throughout the country. These companies have been designated by the government as “their healthcare system” and are situated in underserved and rural regions, Hendershott said. He added that one of the first centers in the country was founded in nearby Boston, and that President John F. Kennedy signed in the first Family Health Center that served migrant workers.
Locally, “there has been a need in Gloucester for a long time,” Hendershott continued. “There’s a large uninsured population that’s medically underserved in this area. We are trying to grow this system and become a more vital organization.” Family Nurse Practitioner Christine Malagrida agrees “the Center has been much anticipated and we are here now to serve anyone.”
The Center cares for persons of all ages and incomes, from newborns to elders, and accepts most insurance policies, including MassHealth, Health Safety Net and CommonHealth products. In addition, the Center has benefit specialists on staff to guide uninsured persons through the application process for these programs. “Our financial counseling is one thing that makes us unique,” Malagrida said.
Another special service that reflects the Center’s commitment to its new community is that it is “linguistically competent,” Malagrida pointed out. Most of the staff is multi-lingual, and can converse in English, Portuguese and Spanish, so there are no language difficulties to overcome.
The Center focuses on primary care, and the supervising physician and nurse practitioner are skilled in family medicine. The facility also hosts a full service dental clinic. “It is huge for any community to have more dental services,” Malagrida said.
Another distinctive facet of care is the Center pilot program that integrates primary care and behavioral health, which encompasses mental health and substance abuse concerns. Behavioral Health Consultant Lisa Schott, LICSW, works exclusively with Center clients and provides immediate, on-site support, which eliminates any waiting periods for appointments and transportation barriers. “It’s a great resource,” Malagrida said. “We’re bringing her in to primary care visits right when the patient is being seen to address behavioral health issues of our clients.” She said the patients have been very receptive to this service, because “in general in primary care, behavioral health issues account for a large number of visits.” Anxiety, depression and sleep disorders are the most common complaints, she related.
“We are very mission oriented, work hard, and have a really good staff that really wants to serve the people,” Hendershott said. He said that the community and local partners such as Northeast Health Systems, the Gloucester Health Department, Health and Education Services and the Mayor’s office have been very supportive of the Center and put in a great effort to help launch the project. An open house was held last fall and was well attended by local citizens and professional partners, he said.
The Center hopes to expand the availability of primary care throughout Gloucester and contribute to better health region wide. It offers same day sick appointments on a walk-in basis, but the staff also emphasize that the Center will strive to serve as a “medical home” for patients. “When you come here, you are choosing us to be your primary care provider,” Malagrida says. The Center offers 24 hour call service as well.
The group works with area pharmacies for prescription needs, and has already cemented a partnership with Eaton Apothecary to offer low-cost prescriptions to those who subscribe to Health Safety Net. The Center hosts a laboratory for blood work, and also works with next door neighbor Addison Gilbert Hospital to process x-rays and other diagnostic tests.
“We’re very proud of our facility and those who work there,” Hendershott said. “We are very excited and will continue to grow and expand.” For an appointment at the Gloucester Family Health Center, please call 978-282-8899.
This article is part of a regular health education series provided by the Gloucester Health Department and Addison Gilbert Hospital.

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