2021 Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Awardees

Congressman Jim McGovern, Ismael Rivera and the Program RISE to Receive 2021 Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Award

Two critical champions of community health will be honored for their work through the COVID-19 pandemic with the 2021 Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Awards at Polar Park in Worcester on October 7.  The annual event, hosted by Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center (Kennedy Community Health), is sponsored this year by LabCorp, United Healthcare, Harvard Pilgrim, AAFCPAs, Promoting Good, LLC, Kelleher & Sadowsky, Reliant Medical Group, Advocates, and Open Sky Community Services. 

Congressman Jim McGovern and Ismael Rivera, Director of Prevention Services at JRI Health, of the Program RISE will be honored for their vital support of the Worcester, Framingham and Milford areas.

Through the harrowing months of this pandemic and long before, Congressman McGovern and Ismael Rivera of the Program RISE have shown an unparalleled commitment to the health needs in our communities,” said Kennedy Community Health President and CEO Stephen J. Kerrigan. “We are truly grateful to have both as partners in providing accessible, equitable healthcare to our patients and residents of Central and MetroWest Massachusetts.”

What: The 2021 Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center Awards

When: Thursday, October 7, 2021 at 8:00 a.m. — 9:30 a.m.

Where: Polar Park, Hanover Deck, 100 Madison St, Worcester, MA 01608

The event is free to attend, but advanced registration is required.  Please email us at RSVP@kennedychc.org

Awardee Profiles

Ismael “Izzy” Rivera has dedicated his career to connecting those who need sexual health services in the MetroWest area with HIV, STI, and Viral Hepatitis prevention, testing, treatment, and education, with particular attention in reaching historically underserved and minority populations. Originally from Puerto Rico, Izzy grew up in the Worcester area, where he worked as a health educator at the Worcester Department of Public Health and for Kennedy Community Health, formally the Great Brook Valley Health Center.  In this role, the scope of his responsibilities included designing community correction programs and services provided by the Health Center, one-on-one counseling and after care planning to people living with HIV/AIDS, and facilitating HIV, STIs and Viral Hepatitis courses for men and women at various correctional institutions.

For the last 11 years, Izzy has been working with the Justice Resource Institute (JRI) and Program RISE, a multi-service component of JRI Health, serving Framingham and surrounding towns in MetroWest. Program RISE offers STI preventative, counseling, and testing services for the public as well as case management and group support services for individuals living with HIV/AIDS. 

As Director of Prevention Services, Izzy supervises all HIV Client Services personnel, including evaluating performance, disciplining, hiring, training, and providing administrative supervision to all programs and serves as liaison with public and private funding sources and assure compliance with guidelines. In his time at JRI Health, Izzy has grown his staff from 4 to 34 employees, has established 20 HIV counseling and testing sites throughout Central and MetroWest area, launched a mobile health van in January 2021 to provide vaccines and services, and plans to launch Rise On–a mobile app which will improve access to substance use resources in the MetroWest area and reduce stigma to promote healthier and safer options.

Congressman James P. McGovern, who was born and raised in Worcester, has held the office of U.S. Representative for Massachusetts’ 2nd Congressional District since 1997, which includes Kennedy Community Health’s flagship Worcester health center site. In his 25 years serving in Congress, Congressman McGovern delivered millions of dollars for jobs, vital local and regional projects, small businesses, public safety, regional and mass transportation projects, and affordable housing throughout his district and Massachusetts. Congressman McGovern has been a strong advocate for Kennedy Community Health and continues to support legislation which furthers access to equitable healthcare for our local communities. Over the course of the pandemic, Congressman McGovern called attention to and led efforts to address the rise of food insecurity, including attending food distribution events hosted by Kennedy Community Health. 

School-Based Health Centers: Best Kept Secret

Connell Sanders: Worcester Public Schools’ best kept secret is in the nurse’s office

By Sarah Connell Sanders
Edward M. Kennedy’s providers offer Worcester Public School students convenient physicals, sports medicine, care for acute and chronic illness, immunizations, and more.



Before Courtney Pelley became the Chief of Staff at Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center, she worked as a high school chemistry teacher. “As a new teacher, it took me a while to learn that the School-Based Health Center (SBHC) was there and to understand how it both worked together with and differed from a traditional school nurse’s office, but eventually I did,” she explained. “From that point on, whenever I noticed that one of my students was struggling to see what was written on the board, or was dealing with food insecurity at home, or was in need of a physical examination in order to participate on an athletic team, or was suffering from pain associated with a decaying tooth, or was experiencing anxiety due to violence in the community, I referred them to the SBHC where they could receive services on-site at school and be connected to the services that they needed outside of school.”

I told Pelley the story of getting a fall physical in the SBHC at my own high school, nearly two decades ago. I remember I had struggled to schedule a visit with my pediatrician before the start of the cross country season and my coach referred me to Doherty Memorial High School’s nurse practitioner. Back then, I was struck by the ease of the visit; the nurse managed to squeeze me in at the end of the school day whereas my own doctor’s office told me it would take months to secure an appointment. She gave me my check-up and had me back out on the running trails in no time. My coach was relieved, and so was I.

Family Health Center of Worcester continues to operate Doherty’s SBHC, along with six others across the Worcester Public Schools. Edward M. Kennedy operates five SBHC’s in the city, including one at the school where I am now a teacher. “This collaboration enables us to provide better access to the SBHCs, but it also improves the quality of care provided by sharing best practices, resources and strategies to best reach the students,” said Pelley. “Given the size of the district, it also helps to maximize our reach, both within the schools, but also at pop-up events like vaccine clinics.”

Edward M. Kennedy’s providers offer Worcester Public School students convenient physicals, sports medicine, care for acute and chronic illness, immunizations, and more. As with my own experience, many students and families remain unaware that these services exist in their schools until they are directed by a teacher or a coach. I promised Pelley that I would explain to all of my incoming students how special it is to have access to an SBHC and help them to take advantage if they are in need.

Pelley cites enrollment as the primary challenge. “A student needs to affirmatively enroll in the SBHC in order to receive care,” she said. “This means a parent or guardian needs to sign and return the paperwork to enroll the student in care.” The paperwork is set to go home with students over the next couple of weeks. Every year, Pelley hopes to reach 100% enrollment, but she relies on teachers, school administrators and community members to get the word out.

“Another challenge is the lack of funding mechanisms to support the school-based health centers,” Pelley told me. “We hope that the expansion into dental will help generate some additional revenue through patient visits, and work to further fill this gap.” Right now, dental is offered at Norback Elementary School and Roosevelt Elementary School. Pelley is determined to offer dental at every SBHC in the near future.

My wish for the start of the new school year is that all of my students will be healthy so they can reach their full potential. You can help too. Make sure the Worcester Public School students in your orbit know about the on-site services in their buildings and encourage them to enroll if they feel like it’s the right fit.



Kennedy Community Health Center Vastly Expands Access to Care in Worcester to Better Serve Patients

Kennedy Community Health Center Vastly Expands Access to Care in Worcester to Better Serve Patients

Post-COVID Expansion Showcases Investment in Community Health

WORCESTER, MA— Worcester area residents will soon have vastly increased access to health care services under a significant expansion announced today by the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center (Kennedy Community Health).

Kennedy Community Health has purchased and will soon occupy the nearly 30,000 square foot building at 605 Lincoln Street currently occupied by the Veteran’s Administration  (VA). The VA announced in 2019 that it will be moving to a larger veteran’s care center at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. 

Stephen J. Kerrigan, Kennedy Community Health’s President and CEO, said this expansion is an effort to keep pace with the region’s growing demand for equitable health services and to increase the Health Center’s capacity to provide quality health care to the people who live and work in Central Massachusetts. The expansion is a continuation of Kennedy Community Health’s nearly 50-year commitment to serving the people of Greater Worcester, a commitment drawn into sharper focus through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With the purchase of 605 Lincoln Street in Worcester, we will have two large sites less than a half a mile apart, providing increased capacity for our patients and access to vital health care services, especially for our most marginalized populations. I’m proud of the work we have done to secure this location as we continue to provide support and care to the people who live and work in the communities we serve,” said Kerrigan.

Plans for Worcester call for Kennedy Community Health to renovate the newly purchased 605 Lincoln Street site to support behavioral health, dental, optometry, urgent care, a small pharmacy and other ancillary services with an opening of some services as early as the spring of 2022.  Once this facility is operational, the Health Center will sell its building at 631 Lincoln Street.  Its flagship site at 19 Tacoma Street will receive renovations to expand primary care and other related services, including the pharmacy.

Kennedy Community 5K Now a Walk/Run, In and Out of Polar Park

Kennedy Community 5K Now a Walk/Run, In and Out of Polar Park

By: John Conceison

Kennedy Community Health and Worcester Red Sox have partnered to present the center’s annual 5K walk/run at Polar Park this year

When the event began in 2015, it was a fine walk in the park in Worcester for a tremendous cause. 

Steve Kerrigan, left, president and CEO of Kennedy Community Health, stands with Joe Bradlee, WooSox vice president of baseball operations and community relations before a recent game at Polar Park. Kerrigan, left, threw out the ceremonial first ball at this game.

Since then, the Kennedy Community Health event has indeed grown, into an annual 5K walk/run, but one thing remains the same — you can still take a walk in the park.

Or course, this walk now can be along a warning track, which girds the playing diamond at Polar Park. Meanwhile, runners also will be on hand, to take on a road race through the Canal District.

The Kennedy Community Health 5K Walk & Run is set for two Saturdays from now, Aug. 7, at the new home of the Worcester Red Sox, and the road race director couldn’t be happier.

“We are so excited to be partnering with the Worcester Red Sox on this,” said Juli True Dooley, Kennedy Community Health’s director of grants and marketing. “We thought what a great opportunity to further our relationship with the WooSox.”

It’s a relationship that began with the Triple-A organization when it was still in Pawtucket. The Kennedy Community Health Center’s event, which formerly was held at Great Brook Valley, across from the center, was held virtually last year, and though it registered more than 100 participants, there remained something missing.

“People were still excited, and they were stir-crazy, looking for that something to do,” Dooley added. “But there was still a lost sense of community, not quite that community-gathering feel. So we figured when we went back live, why not up the ante.”

“Kennedy Community Health is thrilled to be teaming up with the Worcester Red Sox to bring our annual 5K Walk and Run to Polar Park,” said Steve Kerrigan, Kennedy Community Health’s president and CEO. “What started as a walk around Great Brook Valley has grown over the years to become a staple summer event for friends and family of the Health Center.”

Founded in a Worcester housing project in 1972, Kennedy Community Health has three medical facilities, two dental sites, two optometry practices and six school-based centers serving residents of Worcester, Framingham, Milford and surrounding communities of Central Mass. and MetroWest. Currently, more than 26,000 of all ages receive care and service through the Kennedy Community Health system.

Aside from the attraction of Polar Park, another enticing feature of this event is the price — $10 entry fee for runners, $5 for walkers, with commemorative T-shirts included. Race-day registration begins at 8 a.m. in the Polar Park concourse, the runners start at 9 and the walkers at 9:15. An awards ceremony is set for 10:30.

“There’s a lot of interest, we’ve had a steady flow of registrations, and we’ve had a few more sponsors,” Dooley said. “Plus, many organizations are pulling teams together.”

While at Polar Park, those on hand can tour the park, and families can enjoy the recently opened children’s area beyond the left field wall, where WooSox mascot Smiley Ball will pose for pictures with the kids.

Volunteers will be on hand from Central Mass Striders, which has provided timing services for the event since offering a running race in 2018, in what is a busy weekend for CMS. Walkers have the option of completing a mile around the warning track, which is exactly four laps, or venturing on the 5K course in the Canal District, a layout planned in conjunction with the Worcester Police Department.

“The move to Polar Park allows us not only give our returning attendees a new experience in the city’s new ballpark, but it also gives us an opportunity to welcome new community members to come together in the name of health,” Kerrigan added. “As Polar Park’s inaugural 5k, we’re also thrilled to continue our work with our friends at the WooSox to help build a healthier Worcester for all.”

To register, visit kennedychc.org/5k-at-polar-park.

Wachusett Mountain race returns

It was mentioned there’s a busy weekend coming for Central Mass Striders two weeks from now. CMS brings back the Wachusett Mountain Race on Aug. 8, with 3-mile and 10K options.

The 28th running is part of the USATF-New England Mountain Circuit 2021. The 3-mile race is a paved road climb to the top of Wachusett Mountain, with the 10K continuing down off summit on paved roads, then fire roads and trail back to the ski lodge. Cash prizes will be awarded to winners of the 3-mile race (“King and Queen of the Mountain”) and the 10K run.

Race officials note that this year’s race is cupless for the first time. The water stops will be at the same locations, but only large water jugs will be available to refill runners’ own bottle or cup, the same system used at the recent Mount Washington race. There will be bottled water supplied at the finish, along with light refreshments at the base of the mountain.

Race time is earlier this year, going off at 8 a.m., with race-day registration at 7 at the ski lodge. The entry fee is $25, before ascending to $35 after Aug. 1. Plans are for the Wachusett Mountain race to return to Memorial Day weekend in 2022.

For more information and to register online, visit cmsrun.org.


Sarah Connell Sanders: Polar Park’s first 5K is two weeks away

On Saturday, August 7, the Worcester Red Sox will partner with Kennedy Community Health for their first ever 5K walk and run at Polar Park.



I have a feeling the Kennedy Community Health Annual 5K Walk & Run will mark a lot of firsts for Worcester. Aside from being the inaugural 5K at Polar Park, it is also the first in-person race for many of Worcester’s runners who have been confined to virtual events over the last 16 months. Add a large crop of freshly minted pandemic runners into the mix and what we have is a party.

Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center has been dedicated to helping the people of Worcester live healthier lives since it was founded in 1972 by seven women living in Great Brook Valley. Founders sought regular, preventative and primary care services for their families who had long relied on hospital emergency rooms for care. Today, Kennedy Community Health serves nearly 29,000 patients annually across 90 communities, including six school-based health centers.

A flyer for the Kennedy Community Health Annual 5K Walk & Run.



On Saturday, Aug. 7, the Worcester Red Sox will partner with Kennedy Community Health for their first ever 5K walk and run at Polar Park. Runners will take off on a tour of the Canal District at 9 a.m. and cross the finish line inside the stadium. Walkers will embark on a one-mile lap at 9:15 a.m. — a perfect opportunity for families with young children to participate in the day’s festivities alongside the Woo Sox’s beloved mascot, Smiley Ball. Registration fees are lower than I’ve seen for a local race in a very long time; walkers pay just $5 and runners pay $10 for an official number and race results courtesy of Central Mass Striders. Registration also includes a limited edition T-shirt.

President and CEO Stephen J. Kerrigan began his career as a trusted advisor and senior aide to the organization’s namesake, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, before taking on the roles of chief executive officer of both the 2012 Democratic National Convention Committee and the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee, in addition to serving as chief of staff for President Obama’s 2009 Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Kerrigan is thrilled about the evolution of Kennedy Community Health’s annual road race and the opportunity to collaborate with Polar Park’s talented team of event organizers. “What began as a neighborhood walk through Great Brook Valley in 2015 has evolved into a 5K event that brings the community together for a healthy and family-friendly activity,” Kerrigan said. “We are excited about partnering this year with the WooSox and hope to make it an annual Polar Park tradition.”

Many of Worcester’s favorite 5Ks also plan to host live events in the coming months including Canal Diggers Road Race.  Follow free local fitness groups like November Project Worcester and Cupcakes Anonymous on social media to learn about more upcoming races.


Worcester health center focusing on community vaccination efforts

PHOTO | GRANT WELKER Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center’s Milford medical clinic

  • By Sam Bonacci

Worcester’s Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center announced Monday it has been expanding efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to the Central Massachusetts communities through ongoing partnerships.

After vaccinating thousands of its patients, Kennedy Community Health is now focusing on hard-to-reach populations, including those whose work schedules present challenges to scheduling appointments or visiting off-site locations, according to a release.

“We are pleased to be able to expand our reach beyond our health center doors to help ensure that anyone who wants the COVID-19 vaccine can get it safely, easily and for free,” Kennedy Community Health President and CEO Stephen Kerrigan said in the release. “Working in partnership with area organizations and businesses will boost our efforts to make the vaccine readily available.”

In order to reach the student population in Worcester, Kennedy Community Health has collaborated with Worcester Public Schools as part of the state’s vaccine equity initiative to vaccinate middle and high school students. Family members age 12 and above can also get vaccinated at the school clinics.

Kennedy Community Health also partnered with UMass Memorial Health by supplying hundreds of vaccine doses, provided by the federal government, to be administered by the UMass team at a vaccine clinic located at the Marriott in Marlborough, and began offering Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccines at Polar Park during Worcester Red Sox home games.

Changing Power Dynamics

Changing power dynamics: The Kennedy Community Health Center has purposefully remade its board

PHOTOS/MATTHEW WRIGHT, BOWDITCH & DEWEY(From left) Valerie Zolezzi-Wyndham, board chair of the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center, with new board members Emmanuel Larbi and AiVi Nguyen

To better represent its patient population, the board of directors at the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center has made an effort during the past three years to diversify and include a greater variety of perspectives under the leadership of chair Valerie Zolezzi-Wyndham.

The healthcare nonprofit, based in Worcester and providing healthcare mostly for underserved groups, is part of a growing trend of businesses attempting to reflect consumer demographics more closely in their leadership. In an era of massive social upheaval and calls to meet demands for diversity and inclusion, the center’s concentrated efforts to reshape the culture of its leadership board and generate structural shifts within the organization attest to the increasing need to align organizational goals with operational realities.

“When I became chair, I thought it was really important that as opportunities opened up for us to be able to add board members, we do that in a way that would ensure that the board represented the populations that we serve,” said Zolezzi-Wyndham.

Creating the right board

The Kennedy Community Health Center serves about 28,000 patients per year on $35 million in annual income and is led by President & CEO Steve Kerrigan, who is appointed by the board, which sets the tone of the organization. Kennedy’s patient population is 90% low-income, 71% person of color, and 30% without health insurance. A quarter of its patients are children.

During the board member search process, the center emphasizes asking candidates how their lived experiences and perspectives could contribute to thoughtfully managing the center’s operations. The board requires 51% of its 11 members to be patients at the center.

As a result, one third of board members are from outside the U.S., and another third have parents or family who are immigrants. Two board members grew up in the Greater Brook Valley public housing complex, which is where the Kennedy health center started.

“A power dynamic has changed,” said Zolezzi-Wyndham. “At the same time as we were building numbers, we also really worked to make sure that every board member felt that they could bring their voice to the table and felt that their opinions mattered. So we have very lively conversations, and I would absolutely say that the decisions we are making are stronger.”

Kennedy board members now include:

• Raul Porras – a patient board member who founded the Boston nonprofit Latino STEM Alliance and is originally from Venezuela.

• Emmanuel Larbi – A researcher at Tufts Medical Center in Boston in ophthalmology and cancer, who works at Worcester State University and owns a restaurant.

• Sue Seppa – a certified public accountant, who worked for Great Brook Valley

• AiVi Nguyen – a lawyer at Worcester law firm Bowditch & Dewey, a former resident of the Great Brook Valley public housing complex, and the former chair of United Way of Central Massachusetts

“When you have a diverse board with a multitude of perspectives, it allows for a lot of insight,” said Larbi, a Ghanian immigrant who joined the board in November. “When it’s time to make an executive decision, you have a lot of voices to help identify the gaps that perhaps you’re not seeing.”

Once selected, the board has worked to ensure an open culture of collaboration through subcommittees and actively engaging each board member in responsibility. Additionally, the introduction of two-year term limits for the chair position promotes continued hierarchical change in the board structure.

“Every board member has a role beyond the two-hour monthly meetings. You dive deep into an issue that each subcommittee is dealing with and then report back to the full board,” said Nguyen, who joined upon Zolezzi-Wyndham’s request. “It’s a good chance for people to get into small groups and really feel comfortable speaking.”

More inclusive boards

Beyond simply appointing women and people of color, the board meetings at the Kennedy Community Health Center demonstrate the need to supplement hiring new perspectives with a reorientation of the fundamental principles of business operation, said Jean Beaupre, a professor at Nichols College in Dudley and faculty advisor to the Institute for Women’s Leadership at Nichols. 

Jean Beaupre, professor at Nichols College in Dudley

Examining and revising the hiring process can provide an insight into how to shift the culture of an organization, Beaupre said.

“A lot of upper-level recruitment has traditionally been through referrals, so the circle can be a bit small or insular,” said Beaupre. “If an organization is serious about diversity, they are tackling not just the final decision but the process they go through. Where are they listing the jobs? How is it listed? What resources are they bringing in?”

Outside of the Kennedy health center, Zolezzi-Wyndham is the founder of Upton consulting firm Promoting Good, which offers counsel on inclusive workplace practices. Companies are now frequently hiring diversity and inclusion consultants to normalize a culture of generating questions and encouraging different opinions. More broadly within the business community, inclusion and diversity campaigns may be becoming not just preferable but essential to remain competitive in hiring and retaining consumers, she said.

“We can hope that in the years to come that prioritizing diversity will just be the way things are done, but the case for it as a fiscal necessity is strengthening,” said Beaupre. “The polarization between those that are getting diversity right and those who are not is widening, so there is going to be more of a fiscal benefit to organizations to try and get diversity right.”

In making decisions regarding the composition of leadership boards, a simple metric to gauge diversity is the share of minorities and women in upper management. But performative diversity initiatives, those that make leadership changes without an accompanying culture shift within the business, may struggle to perform as well as competitors that restructure. 

The Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center facility on Tacoma Street in Worcester, one of its three patient locations, sits near the Great Brook Valley Gardens public housing complex.

“In this era of social media, consumers are demanding and can achieve transparency through their own experiences,” said Beaupre. “We can hear from the people who work there, who patronize, and who are members of that organization. It has to be cultural and not just a checking of the box.”

Ultimately, the question of how to improve inclusion and what a truly diverse leadership team looks like will remain an ongoing challenge. Nguyen, who is set to become chair of the board later this year, expects to carry the momentum established by the leadership of Zolezzi-Wyndham.

“I don’t intend on any loss of momentum in our recruitment and retaining board members that look like the people we serve,” said Nguyen. “There is so much other diverse professional talent out there. You just have to put in the work to identify them and let them know that they are qualified.”

COVID-19 Vaccines at Polar Park During WooSox Home Games

A COVID-19 vaccine and free ticket offered by Worcester Red Sox

WORCESTER — Baseball fans will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine at Polar Park during the six-game homestand of the Worcester Red Sox.

The team announced Tuesday that up to 50 Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be administered each game, in partnership with the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center.

Those who get vaccinated will receive a free ticket to the game.

Fans must be 18 years old to participate.

“We are proud to be among the first Triple-A teams in the country to offer vaccines for fans during our ballgames,” said WooSox President Charles A. Steinberg. 

Staff from the health center will give the shots on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

The homestand opens Tuesday.

Fans interested in the vaccine offer should go to the park ticket office. Also, vaccines are available to fans who already have a ticket. In such a case, a ticket to a future game will be provided.

“We are pleased to be able to expand our reach beyond our health center doors to help ensure that anyone who wants the COVID-19 vaccine can get it safely, easily and for free,” said Kennedy Community Health President and CEO Stephen J. Kerrigan.

The Tuesday game marks the team’s first game since capacity limits were lifted in Massachusetts.

In May, the park was the site of a vaccine clinic. More than 200 shots were administered.

A man completes a registration form before receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at Polar Park May 25.

Worcester’s Kennedy Community Health receives $6.2 million in American Rescue Plan funding

WORCESTER — The Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center received $6.2 million in American Rescue Plan funding, U.S. Rep. James McGovern announced Thursday. 

“We’re proudly grateful to (the fund), President Biden and Jim McGovern for his leadership in the house to get the plan passed,” said Stephen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center since July 2019.

Since the start of the pandemic, the center has had many expenses on COVID-related cares, such as establishing screening tents outside their health center sites on Tacoma and Lincoln streets, and Skyline and Century drives. The center hired nurses to conduct testing and administer vaccines. 

Kerrigan said the center will mainly use the money for not only paying COVID-related bills since last year, but also modifying sites and infrastructure and doing funds. 

“We’ll be looking at all of our sites as we always are, to find ways to increase access of care, (like) providing more primary clinical spaces,” Kerrigan said.

“It really allows us not just meet the moment of COVID but comes out stronger on the other side,” Kerrigan said.

The center is one of three community health centers in Massachusetts’ Second Congressional District who received the funding. The total in three is $12.9 million.

“Community health centers play a vital role when it comes to expanding justice and equity in our healthcare system, and that’s never been clearer than in the vital role they have played in responding to COVID-19,” McGovern said. “More help is on the way through the American Rescue Plan so they can redouble their efforts to get more shots in arms, support underserved and vulnerable populations that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and save more lives during this pandemic.”

The funds are part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which invests $6 billion nationwide to expand access to vaccines in underserved communities.

Through the American Rescue Plan, 37 community health centers throughout Massachusetts will receive a total of $144,350,625.

Throughout the pandemic, the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center has maintained financial strength that resulted in no staff layoffs or furloughs, as they adjusted smoothly to telehealth visits and remote work. 

According to the center, Kennedy Community Health was able to deliver more than 80% of services through telehealth. Because of that, the rate of patients not showing up for appointments dropped from 22% to less than 13%, and the overall number of patient visits increased. 

“Critically important that we have a president who understand the value of community health, we have a congressman and all of our members of Congress who really understand the value of community health centers,” Kerrigan said.


‘Stars in the darkness’

After a year of battling the pandemic, Central Mass. community health center workers play a leading role in the vaccination effort


Community health center workers, who have served many of those most vulnerable to COVID-19 over the past year, are now on the front lines of the vaccination effort. 

“Our staff is leading by example,” said Worcester’s Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center President and CEO Stephen Kerrigan after a recent vaccination clinic for health center workers. “We told our employees to take time to learn as much about the new vaccines as possible, but we felt that we had a role and a responsibility as health care leaders to demonstrate their safety and efficacy to our patient population who may be a little more wary.”

A vital mission

Founded in a Worcester housing project in 1972, the Kennedy Community Health today serves nearly 29,000 patients of Worcester, Framingham, Milford, and the surrounding communities of MetroWest and Central Massachusetts. More than 90% of the centers’ patients are low-income and more than 70% identify as a racial or ethnic minority.

The spirit of community health center founders — former Freedom Summer medics galvanized by the health inequities they saw in the South as they aided in African-American voter registration —drives Kennedy Community Health’s mission to this day, Kerrigan said.

“We are there for those who don’t necessarily know how to use their own voice for themselves,” Kerrigan said, noting the health center’s patients speak 92 languages and the vast majority are uninsured or insured by MassHealth. “We are there for those who don’t have a granddaughter or grandson or the means to be online to sign up for a mass vaccination site.”

When the pandemic hit a year ago, infection and hospitalizations spiked in the communities served by the health center, bringing extraordinary challenges. But Kennedy Community Health remained committed to providing high-quality and inclusive care to its patients.

“You are stars,” Kerrigan recalls telling his staff. “The stars need the darkness in order to shine, and that’s what our team has done every day of this pandemic.”

Sense of urgency

On a recent chilly morning in March, Jaya Rawla, a nurse practitioner in Kennedy Community Health’s addiction medicine program, was administering the vaccine to her health center colleagues. Her year of helping care for COVID patients gave her a keen sense of urgency. 

The data overwhelmingly tells us that the vaccines that have been authorized in the U.S.— Johnson & JohnsonModernaPfizer — protect you from getting coronavirus.

 Jaya Rawla

Jaya Rawla, a nurse practitioner in
Kennedy Community Health’s addiction medicine program

“It is an extremely dangerous disease,” Rawla said. “It does not matter if you are young and healthy, you can still die, you can still have serious complications that can last the rest of your life.”

One by one, her colleagues filed in to receive their shots. Their hopes ranged from the extravagant to the simple — a trip to Paris, the embrace of a loved one — but every staff member rolling their sleeve up for the shot shared the same hope that vaccination will protect their patients, their families and their community.

“Honestly, it’s the best option for every one of us to move on with our lives and really fight the virus,” said Maria Antonia Silva, 21, who had only been working at Kennedy Community Health about a month when the pandemic hit in earnest,

“Maybe, who knows, we can get rid of the masks when we all get these shots,” said Javier Abiel Valdivia, 44, a senior Kennedy Community Health accountant with a laugh as he received his second shot.

Choosing Vaccination at
Kennedy Community Health Center in Worcester


Mobilizing to help

In Massachusetts, more than 1 million residents rely on community health centers as their primary care providers. The Baker administration has announced a new vaccination outreach initiative, which will target the 20 cities and towns in Massachusetts most affected by COVID-19, in close partnership with community health centers. The state’s largest not-for-profit health insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, is also partnering with community health centers to provide $1 million in rides for patients to vaccination sites.  

When doctors, nurses, and staff are vaccinated, they can talk to patients about the new vaccines in a more personal way, Kerrigan noted.

People listen to those who they are used to having with them in the most vulnerable moments of their life.

And now, Kerrigan says, he hears relief and elation in the voices of Kennedy Community Health patients, some in tears because they are able to get a vaccine and take an important step towards getting their lives back.

“They were in their homes for a year, panicked about this virus, and didn’t know where to go or who to turn to,” Kerrigan said, “and then they get a phone call from us and saying ‘Hey, do you want to come in next week and get a vaccine?’ ”

The chance to provide those shots, he added, “has meant more to me than almost anything else I have done in my entire life.”