A half-century ago, the late Dr. James Taylor’s compassionate work with the elderly population on aging issues like hypertension, heart disease and diabetes brought him to East Boston. Dr. Taylor found that many of his patients in Eastie had little or no access to quality healthcare due to the neighborhood’s geographic isolation from the rest of Boston. Neighbors were living with untreated conditions, pregnant women weren’t getting prenatal care early enough, and important health screenings were unavailable.
With only a medical relief station on Gove Street to care for the population, Dr. Taylor knew it was time for a full-fledged community health center in the neighborhood.
So in the late 1960s, Dr. Taylor worked with a group of Eastie mothers, and successfully lobbied city and state officials to dedicate funds for a bold expansion of the relief station to the full service East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) we know today.
Fifty years later EBNHC is going strong and has emerged as a national model for Community Health Centers across the country–providing easily accessible, high-quality health care to all who live and work in Eastie and the surrounding communities of Chelsea, Revere, Everett, and Winthrop. Since that launch in 1970, the Health Center has operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is the only health center in New England, and one of the few in the country, to provide continuous care.
On Thursday, Oct 29 EBNHC will hold a virtual celebration to mark the Health Center’s 50th Anniversary. The event will be live streamed on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter.
“It’s definitely a challenging time to celebrate with all that is going on with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said EBNHC President and CEO Manny Lopes, who began his career at the Health Center in his teens. “But we felt there was still an opportunity virtually to recognize all the hard work the Health Center has done over these past 50 years and continues to do for this community and the surrounding communities we serve.”
Lopes said over the past 50 years the EBNHC has been a leader and trailblazer in community health and a model for how high-quality healthcare and other programs can be delivered regardless of a patient’s ability to pay, immigration status, religion or cultural background.
“For me standing on the shoulders of the giants that started our mission 50 years ago is an honor,” said Lopes. “From the mothers that worked with Dr. Taylor in the 1960’s and first advocated for the relief station to be a community health center to the original and current board members like Rita Sorrento who dedicated their time to our mission for decades and to people like our former President and CEO Jack Cradock who, in 1978, helped to begin an era of growth that helped us emerge as a nationally recognized institution–it is really an honor and privilege to continue their work at EBNHC.”
Lopes said on the local level, the community sometimes forgets how EBNHC’s national presence and recognition has helped improve the delivery of healthcare across the country.
“We set the standard in many ways and were the first community health center in the nation to implement electronic medical records through EPIC, the first to implement a PACE program that help elderly patients age safely at home and the first and only community health center to have a 24 hour emergency department that is one of the largest in the country,” said Lopes. “The key to our success over the years has been our focus on the needs of the community and how we can use innovation and growth to deliver quality healthcare and address these needs. Over the past half century we have been creative and innovative in developing plans and programs that have helped our communities live healthy lives.”
Lopes said the ongoing pandemic has really highlighted the ongoing needs in the community.
“This current pandemic has put the greatest spotlight on the inequities that continue to exist in our healthcare system and the work we still have to do for people,” said Lopes. “Many are not getting the healthcare that they need at a time when they need it the most. These people are challenged by socioeconomic factors like housing, income, food insecurity, race, and the COVID pandemic has only amplified our need to do more. We’ve done a lot but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Maria Valentini-Brito is currently the HRIS/Benefits Manager at East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. Valentini has worked nearly three decades at the Health Center and began her career in 1989 serving as an Executive Secretary.
“Throughout my tenure at EBNHC, I have seen so many changes and growth, both within the organization, as well as the communities we serve. The one constant, however, is our team of dedicated, compassionate, diverse and caring staff. From the CEO’s office, to the clinical departments, the office workers, maintenance and our custodial staff – each EBNHC hero is valued and appreciated – and this is what makes this organization special and why I have worked here for this long.”
Deirdre A. Alba
Deirdre A. Alba is currently the Facilities Manager at East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. Alba has worked over 49 years at the Health Center and began her career in 1979 serving as a Medical Records Clerk on Gove Street.
“East Boston is my hometown and even though I do not live here anymore, when asked where I live the answer is always, “I’m from East Boston originally”. Growing up here the sense of family and community was so very strong and tight knit. That unbreakable bond, which was instilled in me growing up is what has kept me here at EBNHC for over 40 years. No matter how EBNHC grew, one constant is family and community.”
Jeanne Sinatra is currently a Program Manager at East Boston Neighborhood Health Center but began her career at the Health Center 30 years ago in 1980 when she started as an Administrative Secretary.
“EBNHC has truly been a special place to work since my first day. I have had the pleasure of interacting with so many caring, compassionate and truly dedicated professionals over the years who have enriched my life in many ways. I take pride in supporting EBNHC’s mission to provide excellent health care to East Boston and area residents in a way that is welcoming to all who seek our help. I am privileged to have had the opportunity to work with both Past and Present Leadership and am proud to have contributed to EBNHC’s growth and accomplishments in the last 50 years. I’m truly looking forward to the next chapter at EBNHC.”