CENTRAL FALLS – It was the biggest story in the Biggest Little that was not covered by the news media last week: the tangible emergence of Rhode Island as a national leader in providing innovative health care delivery at the community level, from the ground up.
On Monday, April 23, the last steel beam was lifted into place atop the new $15 million Neighborhood Health Station facility now under construction at 1000 Broad St., the first such structure in the nation, a momentous occurrence in efforts to build the pathway toward future health and economic prosperity for residents of the poorest, smallest city in Rhode Island.
To put the event in perspective, it was the very first time, as Central Falls Mayor James Diossa told ConvergenceRI, that the mayor had witnessed such a steel beam topping-off ceremony in his city since first being elected mayor in 2012. Can you say community-driven jobs and economic development?
The new Neighborhood Health Station facility, the first of its kind in a Rhode Island city, and heralded as the first of its kind in the U.S., is scheduled to open its doors in September of 2018. [A similar but different model of a neighborhood health center exists in the rural community of Scituate, focused on providing access to primary health care and screening for all residents.]
It is being built by the Blackstone Valley Community Health Care center, one of eight community health care centers operating in the state, creating a one-stop shopping center for health care delivery in Central Falls, combining both primary care and urgent care, with the capability of serving most of the city’s residents.
Ray Lavoie, executive director of Blackstone Valley, described the underlying concept in straightforward terms: “A neighborhood health station is pretty much a one-stop shop, where 90 percent of the folks in Central Falls can get 90 percent of their health care needs met,” he said.
Translated, the new Neighborhood Health Station facility benefits the health and well being of the city’s residents, keeping the money spent on health care in Central Falls.
“You are looking at the very first Neighborhood Health Station in the United States,” Lavoie declared, in advance of the hoisting the steel beam in place.
The story began back in 2013, as Central Falls began to emerge from bankruptcy, and the R.I. Department of Health, as part of a listening tour, heard what the residents of Central Falls wanted.
“This journey began back in the fall of 2013,” Lavoie said, “when the good Dr. Fine, [then serving as director of the R.I. Department of Health], did a listening tour in Central Falls. Central Falls had recently emerged from bankruptcy. And, what he heard from the citizens was loud and clear: they wanted more health care.”
And so, Lavoie continued, pointing behind him to the steel structure of the Neighborhood Health Station, “What you see is how Blackstone Valley Community Health Care is bringing more health care to the city of Central Falls.”
For many generations of families
Central Falls Mayor James Diossa spoke briefly, saying how excited he was that this project was moving along, adding that he was served by Blackstone Valley.
“Not only is it a big investment in dollars to our community, building [the Neighborhood Health Station] facility, but as we all know, life is priceless, and the investment is going to help many families in Central Falls for many generations,” he said.
Calling Dr. Fine
Dr. Michael Fine, the senior population health and clinical officer at Blackstone Valley, spoke next. “It takes a building, it takes a city, and it takes people,” he said, talking about the ingredients needed for success. “This is the opportunity to begin to build a health care system that is for the people, not for profiteers.”
This is the moment, Fine continued, striking a chord of high aspirations, “When we can see the sea change [in helping] Central Falls become the healthiest city in Rhode Island; it will show the U.S. what it’s like to have a health care system, and not a market.”
To make that happen, Fine said, depends on the people – the residents of Central Falls, the doctors and nurses and aides and mental and behavioral health workers and EMTs who help to keep the city healthy, the people in the buildings around us, seeing patients, every moment of every day. “To them, we give the greatest thanks.”
Glenn Ahlborg, vice president of Ahlborg Construction Co., which is overseeing the construction of the new Neighborhood Health Station facility, spoke briefly, thanking all the members of the construction team and the architectural team for working so diligently in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration to get the job done, despite the difficult weather this spring.