Community Health Centers will play a major role in vaccine education and distribution

In so many ways, 2020 was a year without equal. 

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed our daily lives, reaching every family, every community throughout Central Massachusetts, and every country across the world. Our healthcare system was tested in ways not seen in over 100 years.

Now, a much-needed source of hope has arrived as health care workers, front line workers, and those at the highest risk for the virus have begun receiving the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Community health centers, for a generation the front lines of health care delivery to those who need it most, have risen to the challenges brought on by the pandemic. We are working hard to stay in line with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts guidelines, with vaccines being distributed to hospital staff and those on the front line of COVID-19 care.

As a trusted source of healthcare and information, community health centers — like Kennedy Community Health and Family Health Center — will play a major role in providing education about and administering the COVID-19 vaccine; particularly to racially, ethnically and economically diverse, underserved, and high-risk populations. 

We sincerely hope we have built up enough trust through our centuries of combined work to ensure that, when there are vaccines, people will come to get them. And we know the medical professionals who guide our work and those around the region, will pitch in to reach their patients since we know doctors, nurses and other front line health workers are our most trustworthy and reliable messengers to motivate patients.

Still, longstanding health and economic inequities have put these diverse populations at a greater risk for contracting this deadly virus and poor to fatal health outcomes as a result of COVID-19. Years of serving these populations have set community health centers up to be well-versed in the challenges our patients face and in providing culturally and linguistically appropriate care.

Among the critical populations community health centers serve nationwide, 14.5 million people are impoverished, 2.9 million people are 65 and older, 19 million are of minority background, and 20 million people have chronic health conditions.

There are vaccine distribution challenges we must overcome, including completing the two-dose vaccine schedule, reaching those who harbor skepticism for government vaccination programs, and ensuring continued compliance to mask-wearing and social distancing after the vaccine is received. 

At the same time, we must also act with heightened awareness of those inequities and distrusts in order to reach an equitable COVID-19 response. It will take months before the vaccine is completely rolled out and we must remain vigilant as we work toward this end. 

At our community health centers and at similar centers across the country, we are getting preparations underway to ensure the COVID-19 vaccine reaches all our staff and our patients. Specifically, that means we are:

  • Staying up-to-date on current information and coordinating with public, state and local health entities;
  • Developing culturally appropriate messaging for our diverse patient population and making sure they receive our message wherever they are;
  • Ensuring we are approaching vaccine distribution following safety guidelines and emphasizing equitable access to care;
  • Modeling good-behavior through staff vaccinations and vaccine education outreach.

While the light at the end of the tunnel is shining in front of us, we don’t know exactly how long the tunnel will be so there is much work to be done. 

It is more important than ever that we receive funding and support from federal and state sources to carry on this work and ensure that the most vulnerable in our communities continue to have access to vital care.

We are proud of the work that Family Health and Kennedy Community Health have done during the pandemic to meet the growing need in our communities and remain a lifeline to the most vulnerable. 

Our highest priority is and will always be to continue keeping our staff and our patients safe and healthy, and provide a more equitable future for all.

Stephen J. Kerrigan is the president and CEO of the Kennedy Community Health Center in Worcester; Louis Brady is the president and CEO of Family Health of Worcester

Worcester community health centers served 57K people, have $149M in economic impact

PHOTO | MATT WRIGHT The Family Health Center of Worcester

Worcester’s two community health centers, which more often treat low-income or vulnerable populations, treated more than 57,000 patients in 2018, totaling nearly 315,000 visits, according to a new report.

The Family Health Center of Worcester and the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center also provide the region with an economic benefit, including through the 1,125 people they employ together, according to a report by the Boston nonprofit Capital Link. The report, released by the two health centers, pegs their combined economic impact at $148.8 million, including direct spending at the centers and income spent in the community.

The two Worcester facilities brought health expenditure savings to patients, including $69 million in Medicaid savings and $105 million to the health system in total, Capital Link estimated.

The Family Health Center is the slightly larger of the two, serving 29,001 patients in 2018, with 183,752 patient visits. Kennedy had 28,414 patients with a combined 131,223 visits. More than 90% of the centers’ patients are low-income and more than 70% identify as a racial or ethnic minority.

Worcester’s Kennedy Community Health set ‘to meet moment’

WORCESTER — Stephen Kerrigan embraces challenges.

Kerrigan became president and CEO of the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center in July 2019, and since then, and especially over the last seven months, the center has faced challenges, obstacles and changes, but also taken pride in the way it has continued to provide quality health care to its 29,000 patients throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

“Has the last year had some challenges?” Kerrigan, who grew up in Lancaster and graduated from St. John’s High in 1989, said. “Sure, but as I say all the time to folks, ‘Challenges are just opportunities to do things a little differently.’”

In the United States, 1,400 community health centers provide affordable care for almost 30 million people at 12,000 sites. In Massachusetts, more than 1 million residents rely on community health centers as their primary care providers. The Kennedy Community Health Center, which was founded as the Great Brook Valley Health Center Inc. in 1972, is one of 38 federally-qualified community health centers in the state.

As millions of Americans have lost their jobs during the pandemic, they have also lost their employer-sponsored health insurance.

“We are more important now than ever before,” Kerrigan said.

The Kennedy Community Health Center, which was renamed in 2010, has, over the last 48 years, grown exponentially with new facilities and services in Worcester, and additional sites in Framingham and Milford. Kennedy Community Health has three medical facilities, two optometry sites, two dental practices and six school-based health center sites.

Kennedy Community Health serves a diverse patient population from 90 communities, Jose Ramirez, the Worcester location’s vice president of operations, said.

In 2019, 14.9% of Kennedy Community Health’s patients resided in public housing. Additionally, 90% are considered low income, 30.5% are uninsured and 39% are insured by MassHealth. Kennedy Health’s patients speak 92 different languages.

Preparation, communication, organization and diligence, Kerrigan said, has allowed Kennedy Community Health to remain open since the pandemic began while ensuring continuity of care and safety in the community, effectively serve many patients via telehealth, stay on track with its pre-COVID budget, and avoid any employee layoffs and/or furloughs due to lost revenue.

The Kennedy Community Health Center employs a total of 362 people, 262 in Worcester.

“For us,” Kerrigan said, “it was about how to step up and prepare and not colossally shut down access for our patients. Knowing this pandemic was on the way, we knew we had a responsibility to look at the critical things we provide, which is access to health care. How do we do it? We do it through our people and we do it through our facilities.

“We felt if we sort of cradled in on ourselves rather than look for opportunities to remain strong and keep growing in a clinically appropriate and safe manner,” Kerrigan said, “when this was all over with we would be way far behind. Instead we’ve really kept apace and continued to have access and opportunities for our patient population and community at large.”

In Worcester, Kennedy Community Health served 4,326 patients in March and 4,723 patients in September.

September 2020 medical visits in Worcester were up by 32.7% and behavioral health visits were up by 25% over last year’s visit numbers for the same time period. Visits for the entire organization this September were up by almost 18% compared to the same time period for 2019.

“We never fully closed anything other than optometry, which we do in partnership with Mass. College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences,” Kerrigan said, “So when they closed, we closed, but all of our sites remained at some level open. We decided we weren’t going to do opening and closing phases. We were going to do clinical operational phase adjustments. It’s just how we change with the times and we monitor all of the clinical metrics and made all of our clinical adjustments based on that.”

Currently, 57% of Kennedy Community Health Center’s medical visits are telehealth.

Kerrigan said Kennedy Community Health began tackling the issue of its technological infrastructure about a year ago, which was critical in the shift to telehealth in March.

Behavioral health services moved to telehealth very quickly and currently 100% of the center’s behavioral health visits are via telehealth.

“We needed to decide quickly, ‘Who can be seen on site? Who can be seen via telehealth? Who might we postpone a little bit until things get a little safer?’” Kennedy Community Health Center COO Leah Gallivan said. “All of the logistical things of getting in touch with patients, telling them how a visit would happen, how you check in a patient, how you document a telehealth visit, the process of seeing patients via the phone or on video had to be laid out. Within a week we pulled all of that together. That’s because everyone was working together. Everyone pitched in because they knew the importance of making this happen.”

“We focused very much on our people,” Kerrigan said, “because our people are a huge part of who we are as a team and how we provide that access to care. I think by investing in our organization and our staff, it allowed us to remain strong.”

“When you’re in community health,” Kerrigan said, “you’re always adapting, but adaptation was the rule of the day and it remains. We’re not done. We’re in this for a very long time.”

According to the Kennedy Community Health Center’s 2019 annual report, 69% of its operating revenue came through patient services, 26% through grants and contracts, and 3% through donated goods and services. Salaries and wages accounted for 53 percent of its expenses.

In April, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, under the CARES Act, awarded more than $34 million in grants to community health centers in Massachusetts, and, in May, $16 million in federal grants through the Expanding Capacity for Testing Program.

Kennedy Community Health received close to $1.8 million in federal grants in March and April, the majority of which was restricted to addressing COVID-19 and expanded access to testing.

Like it was for many, PPE was a challenge for Kennedy Community Health Center early in the pandemic.

“In the beginning there was a crunch because everybody was caught off guard,” Candice Richardson, vice president of nursing and clinical support services, said. “Most vendors were restricting and allocating their PPE. When we put in orders, it was a very limited amount we could get.”

Community support from Mutual Aid Worcester — Mask Making, Masks Made with Love MetroWest, Mask Steers, St. Rose of Lima Parish, area dental practices such as Atlantis Dental, and Cinnamon & Hubley Dental Practice, among others, helped.

“We stabilized PPE within 30 days,” Richardson said, “and we’ve continued to be stabilized with PPE.”

Kennedy Community Health has tested 2,325 patients for coronavirus to date (as of Oct. 6), with 734 positives, 1,410 negatives, 103 pending and 78 not tested (showed symptoms but didn’t follow through with a test). The largest age group testing positive was 30-49.

The Kennedy Community Health Center has partnered with the city of Worcester for several of its free coronavirus testing events.

The Kennedy Community Health Center has received positive feedback from its patients during the pandemic.

“Patients are tremendously reassured to know that we’re open,” Dr. Anna McMahan, medical director at Kennedy Health in Worcester, said, “and hearing patients say, ‘I’ve been feeling sick and I can come in and you can see me. I’m so glad you could see me here,’ or if the visits are by phone, ‘I’m so happy you’re able to do it by telephone.’ There are a number of ways to provide patients access to care, (such as) getting their flu vaccines done outside in a tent if they’re not comfortable coming in. Our patients are incredibly grateful and patient and understanding. We are literally and figuratively a large cornerstone of a community, and our patients have been very happy to have access to all the services we offer them.”

There is anticipation, of course, of a second wave of COVID-19 this winter.

Kerrigan is confident Kennedy Community Health will be ready.

“We met the moment when we weren’t aware it was coming,” Kerrigan said. “Now that we know it’s coming — and we’d be silly to think it’s not coming — we are prepared today to meet the moment. It’s been an incredible experience and it’s an ongoing amazing experience, but no one here assumes we’re in the final act of anything. We’re constantly updating our procedures.”

For more than a decade, Kerrigan served as a senior aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, for whom the center is named, and who, throughout his career, was a tireless advocate of health-care reform.

“To have a chance now,” Kerrigan said, “to work every day with these incredible people and bring to life his lifelong and career-long goal of bringing high-quality health care to people who need it is just an amazing opportunity.”

National Health Center Week Campaign

Each August, National Health Center Week is celebrated across the country. At Kennedy Community Health, this week is an opportunity to recognize the hard work, dedication, and accomplishments of our staff. This year the celebration takes on new meaning due to the sacrifices being made by each and every one of our staff members who are working tirelessly to ensure our patients and community stay healthy and safe as we fight the pandemic together.

The pressures and demands put upon our staff as a result of COVID-19 have been tremendous. Despite the threat posed by the virus, our doors have remained open to screen and test patients for the virus and provide care as needed to high risk groups. Our staff spent hours navigating the continuous stream of new requirements and protocols to deal with the outbreak by re-imagining new and safer ways to provide care, including quickly ramping up a comprehensive telehealth program. These sacrifices and their commitment to our patients contributed greatly to our Commonwealth’s ability to flatten the curve.

This August, we are asking for your support of these rock stars. As we begin to reintroduce more in-person visits, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies that help our staff remain safe and protected in this dangerous time continue to be in great demand. Your donation will directly benefit some of the greatest heroes of the pandemic: health care workers. By contributing, you are honoring the selfless work they do and ensuring that they have the tools and resources they need to keep doing it, and do it safely.

We appreciate the on-going support of our work and our mission to “help people live healthier lives.” Together, as a community, is the only way we get through this.

Again, thank you for your support!

A Letter to our LGBTQ+ Patient Family

To our LGBTQ Patient Family:

The Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center (Kennedy Community Health) would like you to be aware of some changes the federal government is making in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as well as our response to these changes. On June 12th, the Trump Administration announced changes to its interpretation of Section 1557 of the ACA, which will remove certain federal nondiscrimination in health care protections for members of the LGBTQ community, and in particular, for transgender individuals.

As a leader in health equity and a strong supporter of the LGBTQ community, please know that these federal changes will NOT change Kennedy Community Health’s commitment to providing equal access to health care services for LGBTQ individuals, including transgender individuals. With a proud legacy of supporting the LGBTQ community, Kennedy Community Health will remain steadfast in our mission to provide equitable health care to everyone no matter their race, age, ethnicity, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

All LGBTQ individuals, including transgender individuals will continue to have access to quality care and service at Kennedy Community Health
Kennedy Community Health will continue to provide a full-range of health care and behavioral health services to LGBTQ and transgender individuals, including gender affirming hormone therapy; for a full list visit
MassHealth will continue to provide all medically necessary MassHealth services to LGBTQ individuals who are MassHealth members, including transgender members
LGBTQ members can access MassHealth covered benefits free from unlawful discrimination
No matter what the Trump Administration says or does, the Health Care Rights Law is the law of the land; most courts have said it protects transgender people
Only Congress has the power to change the law by repealing the ACA
Many state laws prohibit discrimination in health care, and discrimination by the government violates the U.S. Constitution

If you have faced discrimination by a health care provider, insurance company, or another health program, reach out to an LGBTQ-friendly legal organization to get help exploring your options. While the National Center for Transgender Equality does not take clients or provide direct legal services, you can find contact information for organizations that do here.

Also, remember that many states have their own laws and regulations that protect transgender people from discrimination in health care and insurance coverage. If you face discrimination, you may be able to file a complaint with your state’s human rights agency or somewhere else— go to Know Your Rights for more information

If you have any questions, please contact us at 1-800-853-2288.
Thank you.
The Kennedy Community Health Team

COVID-19 Optometry Service Update

The safety of our patients is our highest goal during the COVID-19 crisis.  To be in line with the state’s guidelines on opening health care, the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center is now offering limited access to optometry services for patients who meet specific clinical priorities.  Since in-person appointments will only be scheduled for patients who meet these state guidelines, we ask your patience as we open our optometry service gradually.

A Statement from Kennedy Community Health President and CEO and Board Chair

For over 47 years, Kennedy Community Health has been a strong advocate for social justice and health equity for the most vulnerable and marginalized populations in the communities we serve.  As our country grapples with the senseless murder of another black man, we cannot remain silent. The horrific act that caused the death of George Floyd was a travesty, revealing, once again, the racism and hate that is destroying our democracy.

The community health center movement was born out of the fight for civil rights in the 1960s, when Drs. Geiger and Gibson recognized the inequities in our health care system.  While community health centers across the nation have remained committed to ensuring health equity for all individuals, as a society we have not done our part to eliminate the root cause of the inequities that are pervasive today.

Kennedy Community Health mourns the death of George Floyd and stands with Black Lives Matter.  We will remain ever vigilant and will call out all acts of injustice, racism and hate as they have no place in our community, our Commonwealth or our country.


Stephen J. Kerrigan

President and Chief Executive Officer

Valerie Zolezzi-Wyndham

Chair of the Board of Directors

Kennedy Community Health Receives Accreditation From Joint Commission

Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center Awarded Ambulatory Health Care and Behavioral Health Care Accreditation from the Joint Commission

Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center (Kennedy Community Health) has earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for Ambulatory Health Care as well as Behavioral Health Care Accreditation by demonstrating continuous compliance with its performance standards. The Gold Seal is a symbol of quality that reflects a health care organization’s commitment to providing safe and quality patient care.  It is the 23rd consecutive year that Kennedy Community Health has achieved Joint Commission Accreditation for its Ambulatory Health Care, and the first year for its Behavioral Health Care.

Kennedy Community Health underwent a rigorous, unannounced onsite review on November 18, 2019. During the visit, a team of Joint Commission reviewers evaluated compliance with both Ambulatory Health Care and Behavioral Health Care standards spanning several areas including emergency management and environment of care, with a focus on infection prevention and control.

The Joint Commission’s standards are developed in consultation with health care experts and providers, measurement experts and patients. They are informed by scientific literature and expert consensus to help health care organizations measure, assess and improve performance. The surveyors also conducted onsite observations and interviews.

“As a private accreditor, The Joint Commission surveys health care organizations to protect the public by identifying deficiencies in care and working with those organizations to correct them as quickly and sustainably as possible,” says Mark Pelletier, RN, MS, chief operating officer, Accreditation and Certification Operations, and chief nursing executive, The Joint Commission. “We commend Kennedy Community Health for its continuous quality improvement efforts in patient safety and quality of care.”

“We are pleased to announce that Kennedy Community Health has achieved the highest level of Joint Commission Accreditation, Gold Seal of Approval, for the 23rd consecutive year in Ambulatory Health Care and for the first time ever in Behavioral Health Care,” says Stephen J. Kerrigan, President and CEO of Kennedy Community Health.  “We are grateful to The Joint Commission for the careful and thorough review of our sites and services during their visit and for the opportunity to demonstrate of commitment to continuous quality improvement and excellence in patient care and safety.  We look forward to their continued guidance in ensuring we provide the highest quality of care to our 28,000+ patients.”

The organization began its preparations approximately 18 months ago after making the decision to pursue Behavioral Health Care Accreditation in addition to Ambulatory Health Care.  The Health Center conducted a careful analysis of how the Joint Commission’s Ambulatory Health Care standards apply to its practice then engaged a multi-disciplinary team with representation from all three sites, Kennedy Community Health.  This team was tasked with conducting an extensive review of current best practices, policies and procedures to ensure continued compliance with current standards and demonstration of a strong commitment to the “Spirit of Excellence”.

Open Enrollment at Kennedy CHC Framingham Site

On Friday, November 8, 2019, Kennedy CHC will be hosting a Health Insurance Open Enrollment at 354 Waverly Street, Framingham, Massachusetts.  The event will run in two sessions between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and is open to patients and the general public.

The yearly period when people can enroll in a health insurance plan for 2020 runs from November 1 to December 15, 2019. Outside the Open Enrollment Period, you generally can enroll in a health insurance plan only if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. You’re eligible if you have certain life events, like getting married, having a baby, or losing other health coverage.

Join us on November 8th to enroll in a health plan.




Kennedy CHC Announces Recipients of 2019 Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Awards

Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center Honors Dr. Samuel Wong and MCPHS University

Eastern Bank’s Chairman and CEO, Bob Rivers, is Keynote Speaker

The Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center (Kennedy CHC) will be presenting its 2019 Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Awards to: Samuel Wong, PhD, Director of Public Health in the City of Framingham, and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. Bob Rivers, Chairman and CEO of Eastern Bank, will be the keynote speaker.

Awardee Profiles

Dr. Samuel Wong is a passionate public health practitioner; he is currently the Director of Public Health for the City of Framingham and the President of the Massachusetts Health Officers Association.  Dr. Wong is a scholar with the Northeast Public Health Leadership Institute and earned his graduate degrees from the University of Rhode Island.  He is a gubernatorial appointed Council Member for both the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Massachusetts Food Policy Council and serves on many statewide committees including the Special Commission on Local & Regional Health, Community Advisory Board of Harvard Catalyst, and Massachusetts Cancer Research Roundtable. Prior to these roles, Dr. Wong served as the Director of Public & Community Health Services for the Town of Hudson, the Chair of the MetroWest Prevention & Wellness Partnership, and on the West Boylston Board of Health.

Dr. Wong has been recognized a number of times through the years for his work in public health. He has been the recipient of a number of state and regional awards, including the Deborah Blumer Community Health Leadership Award from the MetroWest Health Foundation and the John D. Crowley Award from the Massachusetts Health Officers Associations.

Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences is a valuable partner to Kennedy CHC. MCPHS University’s commitment to educate future healthcare leaders is apparent through their focus on healthcare and broad portfolio of undergraduate and graduate healthcare programs. MCPHS University provides students with an innovative, interprofessional collaborative education that better prepares them for the integrative team-based models of today’s healthcare system.

Accepting the award on behalf of MCPHS University will be Charles F. Monahan, Jr., MCPHS University President and a 1962 graduate of the University with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy.  He became the fifth president of MCPHS University in 1997 after 35 years as a practicing pharmacist and successful business man.  Prior to being appointed President, Mr. Monahan served as a member of the University’s Board of Trustees for eighteen years, six of which he spent as the Chairman of the Board.

A 37-year community banker who started his career as a teller, Bob Rivers is Chair and CEO of Eastern Bank, America’s oldest and largest mutual bank and the largest independent community bank headquartered in Massachusetts with $11 billion in assets and over 120 locations. He is also Chair of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable and The Dimock Center. 

Bob is involved extensively in the community, serving on the Board of Directors of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Jobs for Mass, and The Lowell Plan. He also is a member of the Board of Trustees of Stonehill College, the Board of Corporators of Lowell General Hospital, the Advisory Boards of the Lawrence Partnership and JFK Library Foundation, and is a member of the City of Boston’s Women’s Workforce Council, in addition to providing support and guidance to numerous other non-profit organizations. Bob has been named among the Top 10 “Most Influential People in Boston” by Boston Magazine, and to the Boston Business Journal Power 50 list for the last three years.

Named after the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Bob’s passion for advocating for social justice causes and sustainability issues is the result of a personal and professional journey that began early in his life. Bob has been recognized by many organizations for his work in championing diversity and social justice, including The Boston Globe, The Partnership, Get Konnected!, Color Magazine, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), the Asian American Civic Association (AACA), Association of Latino Professionals For America (ALPFA), El Planeta, the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, The Theater Offensive, and MassINC.