Cries for equality and justice, for rights and opportunities have been with us for far too long. Five decades ago, in the 1970s, the Civil Rights Movement was dominating the headlines. People on the streets demanded health care now. Born from those demands, the community health center movement emerged. Health centers not only provided access to needed care, but they were also a vehicle for economic growth and development in neighborhoods that needed it the most.
In Great Brook Valley, the largest public housing complex in Central MA, seven mothers came together with the same goal in mind: better access to high-quality, comprehensive and preventative care for their families. At the time, residents faced tremendous barriers. In some instances, it could take hours and many bus lines just to get to the emergency room. Some patients took multiple buses with broken bones, bleeding wounds or worse. A report from 1971 described such a situation.
One woman in her twenties brought her six-year-old daughter to a hospital with an injured arm, requesting an x-ray. The staff put a bandage on her and sent her home, but the pain persisted. At a second hospital, the child was diagnosed with a broken arm. The same mother’s eight-year-old received stitches in her leg that burst open once they reached home. Her one-and-a-half-year-old son was diagnosed with a bad asthma attack and given medication for it. A second opinion found the true problem, a collapsed lung.
On August 22, 1972, everything changed. Fed up with the status quo, those seven brave mothers, our Founding Mothers, from Great Brook Valley came together to bring care to the housing complex. The mothers enlisted the help of community leader, Charles Estus, and formed a Health Committee to demonstrate need in the neighborhood. They negotiated for one nurse practitioner to provide care in one room in one apartment, thereby founding the Great Brook Valley Health Center. And on this day in 1972, the Health Center was incorporated.
We know the story from there: one room became five, five became a whole building, and so on until today, 50 years later, Kennedy Community Health proudly serves over 29,000 individuals through 11 sites across Central Mass and MetroWest. These sites, staffed by over 450 members of the communities we serve, provide access to high-quality, comprehensive and inclusive care to anyone who walks through our doors.
Standing on the shoulders of our seven founding mothers, we’re forging ahead with not one, but two expansions, in both Worcester and Milford. The story does not end here.
We continue to carry forth the mission and vision of those seven trailblazers each and every day. We find new opportunities. We dream bigger, we have a greater impact, and we bring more services to more people across the Commonwealth. Every day, we help people live healthier lives but in the words of our namesake, Senator Kennedy, the work goes on.
Yours in health,
Stephen J. Kerrigan