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Community Health Centers: Chemistry for Strong Communities

Community Health Centers: Chemistry for Strong Communities

Today’s blog is from Amy Grassette, President-Elect of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council’s Board of Directors


When thinking about National Health Center Week; and in particular, Health Care for the Homeless Day, it has given me the opportunity to reflect on the last 16 years; both professionally and personally, about Family Health Center of Worcester.

Family Health Center of Worcester is located in central Massachusetts and its mission is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of all residents in the Greater Worcester area, especially culturally diverse populations, by providing access to affordable, high quality, integrated, and respectful primary health care and social services, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay.

Family Health Center offers family medicine, maternal child health, behavioral health, vision services, dentistry, nursing, a Walk-In Center for urgent and primary care same-day visits, a low-cost pharmacy, lab, radiology, school-based health centers, refugee/immigrant health services, teen health clinic, ADHD clinic, INS clinic, an optical shop, flu vaccine clinics, health education and promotion, HIV counseling and testing, and public health programs for the early detection and prevention of disease. In addition to its main site at 26 Queen Street in Worcester, Family Health Center provides care at Family Health Center – Southbridge and seven school health centers in Worcester. Family Health Center administers the Women Infant Children (WIC) nutrition program at four sites in the Greater Worcester area. In addition, we have both a Homeless Families Program and a Single Adult Homeless Program called HOAP.

We offer patient support and enabling services to help our patients fully access care, including health benefits advising and health insurance and food stamps enrollment assistance, medical interpretation in over 55 languages, care coordination for patients with chronic illness, patient advocacy and navigation services, homeless families case management services, Ryan White HIV/AIDS Early Intervention Services, a 24/7 telephone nursing line, financial assistance for prescription drugs, exercise and wellness programs, and community health education. Browse our website or stop by Family Health Center to learn more about our services or enroll as a patient.

One Person’s Journey:

My family’s first experience with the health center was in 2003. We had become homeless, after losing an airport shuttle business after 9/11, and was placed in a hotel, and then a family shelter in Worcester and were referred to the Homeless Families Program at Family Health Center. We were enrolled in the program and became patients of the health center and the program was able to help with housing referrals, placement of our two children in the Worcester Public School system, and our medical and behavioral health care. In addition, once we were housed the program followed up with us for a year to make sure we remained stable.

Six months after moving out of the shelter, I decided to volunteer at the health center to give back to a community that had helped our family so much. The health center had recently opened a Volunteer Center and I volunteered my time as the Volunteer Project Coordinator for four years. During that time, the health center received a small grant to help our patients access SNAP benefits, and I was hired for the position; which started as an 8-hour position and then grew into a 20-hour position. In addition, I was hired to be the assistant to our Social Services Manager.

Over the last 16 years, I have held other positions since then, and am now the OB/Perinatal Scheduler; also known as the “Mother of all Babies” because I register and schedule all of our newborns. In addition to registering our newborns, I schedule our OB patients throughout their pregnancy and schedule their postpartum appointments. One of the things I choose to do for our OB patients is to take donations for our patients in our program, which gives me joy. So many of our patients struggle, so being able to give them things for their new baby’s arrival is very special to them and myself. It has been an amazing journey and led me to my work with the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

After starting at the health center in 2004, I attended my first Health Care for the Homeless Conference and was approached by a group of consumers; who had recently formed the National Consumer Advisory Board Steering Committee (NCAB). I was encouraged to become involved on a national level to share my story of family homelessness, and subsequently became both Co-Chair and Chair of NCAB for 4 years. After leaving the Steering Committee, I was elected to the Clinicians Network Steering Committee and still serve on that committee today. In addition to the Clinicians Network Steering Committee, I currently sit on six Council Committees, am a Peer Mentor for NCAB, and am the longest-standing member of NCAB. I have also had the pleasure of serving as Secretary of the Council’s Board of Directors and was recently elected to serve as President-Elect of the Council’s Board of Directors. This will be the first time that a person with lived experience of homelessness has served as President. For that, I am extremely honored and proud.

Having been homeless was one of my family’s greatest challenges, but had we not had that experience, I would not be doing the work I do today, and that all started after being referred to Family Health Center of Worcester. It is a community of wonderful people who are in this work to help others and go above and beyond to help its patients.

As it turns out, my daughter joined the health center three years ago, and was recently promoted as Supervisor of Scheduling and her daughter joined the health center three weeks ago; working in our vaccine clinic, while she is on a break from college.

It really has come full circle for family………..utilizing the services of the health center and now being part of the health center as employees. We are very grateful.