When I joined the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center as President and CEO in July 2019, I knew it would be both the honor of a lifetime and an exciting professional challenge. While I’ve held numerous leadership roles in the past, none has had the scope and impact of the work our team does at the Health Center. Knowing that our work affects thousands of families across Central and MetroWest Massachusetts left me feeling the weight of the responsibility of the position and understanding the complexity involved with taking on a role that has a direct impact on so many lives. However, I’ve always felt that if you have the opportunity to make a difference, you have an obligation to try. So I dove in head first, naive, for certain, to the myriad challenges that already existed and to the one we all would soon face.
A little more than six months after beginning my tenure as President and CEO, the world changed forever. COVID-19 came in like a wave, crippling the way in which we all lived, worked and cared for our families. One thing was clear from the beginning, however, keeping access open to health care for our patients meant meeting this moment head-on. Flexibility became the name of the game as we worked to address the ever-changing guidance and regulations to keep our staff, patients and community safe during these uncharted times. Our staff, Board of Directors and Health Center leadership shone as we quickly pivoted to ensure uninterrupted access to vital health care services at all times. As a community health center, we’ve always understood the impact of systemic racism on our health care system, and as the pandemic progressed, it became abundantly clear that disenfranchised and marginalized communities were bearing the brunt of the virus, making our work all the more important.
NBA coach Phil Jackson once said, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” This has never been more clear than it has over the past year and a half. We are fortunate to have a team of incredibly well-trained and highly-skilled health care professionals who are members of the community we serve, and therefore understand the needs of, and how best to reach, our patients. By building on their expertise and empowering them with the resources they needed to be flexible in their approach to care, they went to work to cater our services to those who needed them most during the pandemic. We were guided by the notion of setting the bar high – doing whatever it took to provide for our patients. There was never a time more critical in our history to rise to the moment. Our patients always come first despite the circumstances so it meant re-writing the playbook to keep access open. And that’s what we did hour after hour, week after week, month after month, pivoting on a dime to meet patient needs.
Of course, this approach requires not only flexibility and ingenuity, which we have in ample supply, it also requires financial resources, something health centers are not known to have in abundance. As such, community health centers joined forces once again as a movement, and called on Congress to pass immediate emergency funding. Locally, we engaged with our partners to find innovative ways to work together to fulfill the growing health and social needs of our communities. Our local foundations also stood up and heeded the call, providing financial support to those of us on the front lines, helping us to remain steadfast in our mission. And there was an outpouring of support from individuals, small businesses, and community groups to help fill gaps in the scarce supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Meeting the moment meant doing whatever it took to keep our patients, our staff, and our community safe. We pivoted to telehealth for our behavioral health visits in just twenty-four hours – a tremendous feat that helped us reach our patients and keep us open at a time when mental health stressors were at an all-time high. Primary care services went virtual quickly as well and with strict safety measures, we were able to keep our health center doors open for those whose needs couldn’t be met virtually. We avoided furloughs and lay-offs because we know teamwork is essential to everything we do, and we knew all-hands-on-deck was the only approach that would work. We demonstrated our unwavering dedication and commitment to high-quality care and invested in the infrastructure of our organization, to ensure that we would emerge stronger than ever before because we know the work is never done.
As we look forward to our current challenge: ensuring equity and accessibility of the COVID vaccine, we at Kennedy Community Health find ourselves in another central role to not only ensure the health of our patients, but that of the community as a whole. Never shying away from adversity, we jumped in head first to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible. To date, we have successfully vaccinated 99% of our team members along with thousands of patients and community members. That same relentless dedication to health equity is ever present as we continue to push the boundaries, identifying gaps in access and jumping in to fill these holes in whatever capacity we can; strengthening our partnerships in and around the community to better serve; and projecting forward to position Kennedy Community Health for a better tomorrow because here, our patients will always come first.
June 30th marked the end of Pride Month, an annual time of celebration and reflection on how we as a society can become more inclusive, accepting, and dialed into the issues facing those who identify as LGBTQIA+. At the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center (Kennedy Community Health), our celebration of Pride is not limited to only one month a year, rather it is cherished and reflected upon every day through our inclusive approach to the delivery of health care.
At the very core of our mission remains the commitment to providing high-quality health care and service to all individuals, regardless of ability to pay, where they come from, their belief system or who they are as an individual. We treat all of our patients with the same level of respect, protecting their privacy, and treating them with dignity. Our patients are our partners in care, and our job is to empower them with the tools they need to help them live healthier lives. In every aspect of our operations, from our care delivery, to our hiring practices or our physical environment, this mentality of togetherness is and will always remain a top priority.
We believe in equity in every sense of the word, and this, of course spills over into the LGBTQIA+ health care and services we provide. As a matter of practice, LGBTQIA+ friendly and knowledgeable providers and staff are integrated throughout the Health Center. We also provide a whole spectrum of services catered to the needs of all the colors of the rainbow: LGBTQIA+ informed mental and behavioral health care, LGBTQIA+ informed comprehensive medical care, including gynecologic care and pregnancy care, STD/STI/HIV testing and counseling, HIV care and services, and PEP and PrEP (HIV infection prevention and medication). In addition, gender affirming hormone therapy and monitoring, and referrals for gender affirming surgery are offered and will be enhanced with a dedicated transgender practice in the near future.
Our providers establish a working relationship with each of our patients, to engage them in the care they receive and also to establish rapport and build trust. We have built an environment in which patients feel empowered to disclose personal information, and we collect sexual orientation and gender identity information from each of our patients, regardless of where in the practice they receive their care. This allows our team to be responsive to their individual needs, such as providing transgender men with the gynecological care they may need or providing the multi-disciplinary care and support our patients need through their gender affirmation journey.
Kennedy Community Health is committed to providing culturally competent care through on-going learning, listening and support. We remain committed to working as a partner to uplift marginalized and disenfranchised populations, including the LGBTQIA+ community, through advocacy and by providing a safe and inclusive environment to receive care. This is why for four years in a row, Kennedy Community Health has been the only health care provider in Central Massachusetts to be named a Leader in LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality by the Health Equality Index.
At Kennedy Community Health, understanding the unique challenges of all our patients is paramount to what we do so we are better able to equip them with the resources and services to help mitigate these effects. By recruiting and hiring staff from the communities we serve and who are reflective of the diversity of our patient population, we are not only better able to meet the needs of our patients but we are also better able to adapt, respond, and outreach to the community as a whole.
As we close out Pride Month, Kennedy Community Health pledges to continue to address the barriers that threaten to keep our LGBTQIA+ family from living their healthiest lives. And with that, I’d like to wish everyone Happy Pride.
Dear Colleagues and Friends:
Striving to achieve herd immunity, Kennedy Community Health has remained on the front lines helping our nation reach this goal.
When the vaccine first became available in late 2020, the Kennedy Community Health team went into action putting shots in arms. Vaccine clinics were set up for staff and patients were contacted directly to make appointments to receive the vaccine. Keeping in step with state guidelines, our patients had the opportunity to come to their health center home and receive the vaccine from those they trust most- their providers. With 99% of our staff vaccinated, the Kennedy Community Health team set an excellent example and many of our patients responded in kind by receiving the vaccine.
As we continue to vaccinate our patients, we have also moved beyond our health center doors to bring the vaccine to the community. In partnership with UMass Memorial Health, residents of Central Mass have access to the vaccine at a clinic in Marlborough. For those who struggle to get the vaccine due to work hours or a lack of transportation, our vaccination team is visiting area companies, vaccinating employees right at their place of work.
Throughout the course of the pandemic, the Kennedy Community Health team never wavered in its commitment to meet the demands of its patients and the community. The challenges and struggles of 2020 taught us much about our resiliency; they also helped us embrace new opportunities that can actually h