Community Health Center

Wednesday, February 11, 2009
By Cary Shuman

By Seth Daniel

It seems as if everything in Winthrop has been lost or has been threatened with being lost in just a few months.

First it was the library, then the senior center, and this week, it’s jobs at Town Hall.

Now residents can add a community health center to the list of lost items as Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) announced recently it would be closing the Winthrop Medical Center on Washington Street by May.

The health center operates with only one physician, Dr. Usha Desai, and has around 2,000 active patients. Several older practices had folded into the care of Dr. Desai.

Recently, the CHA announced its reorganization plan after having been in discussions with the state since early December about cutbacks in services and closing facilities.

“This plan in partnership with state government is a path to transform CHA’s health care system in a way that sustains our mission of excellence for our patients and our communities,” said Dennis Keefe, CEO of the alliance. “There will be short-term pain, but this proposal is the best option to preserve critical health care services and maintain our commitment to our core patient populations and communities.”

Across the network, there will be more than 300 jobs cut, with most coming from the Somerville and Cambridge areas. The CHA also operates the Whidden Hospital, Somerville Hospital, the Cambridge Hospital and several health centers in those communities, as well as Revere, Everett and Winthrop.

Other changes include:

  • A hiring freeze and reductions in personnel through the above-mentioned job cuts as well as through retirements.
  • A capital spending freeze
  • An elimination of travel and other discretionary spending
  • A consolidation of some clinics
  • A reduction of contract work
  • A freeze on executive compensation
  • No raises, bonuses or other salary enhancements.

Patients from the Winthrop Medical Center will now be directed to the growing Revere Family Health Center on Broadway in Revere. That health center, along with the nearby Whidden Hospital, escaped the reorganization plan without any cuts.

In fact, Revere’s health center will actually be adding services and perhaps expanding its facility at the Fernwood Office Building.

Directors of the Revere practice said a major change for their center will be absorbing all of the patients from the Winthrop practice and the Everett Family Health Center, which, like the Winthrop practice, is also closing. They said they have already begun working on a transition plan.

“We’re certainly not going anywhere,” said Dr. Soma Stout, director of the Revere practice. “Rather than simply cutting services, we’re thinking about how to reconfigure that care in a site that is more full service as opposed to having many locations that don’t quite deliver as many services…I think this will be very positive for the community of Revere and the surrounding communities.”

Stout said they have increased from 3,000 patient visits when they started to 24,000 visits last year. That only looks to increase, mostly because they will be adding patients and services.

Stout said the smaller clinics like Winthrop no longer could exist under the new structure.

“The practices being reconfigured are the very small practices,” she said. “We need a certain critical mass to provide a full array of services – with patients and staff – and it’s hard to do that at very small sites.”

The Revere clinic is adding services such as urgent care, more adult mental health, nutrition, outpatient addiction services, more women’s health services (OB/GYN), geriatric psychiatry and anti-coagulation services – to name just a few.

As far as the Whidden Hospital goes, most everything will be left intact.

There will still be emergency room care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and there is no indication of a cut to any other services there.

CHA, the second leading safety net hospital network for the poor behind Boston Medical Center (BMC), ran into trouble last fall when Gov. Deval Patrick cut their funding by millions of dollars. That was only made worse by the fact that the hospital network also stood to lose millions in state funding that had been part of the Health Care Reform legislation.

Many at CHA and BMC have criticized the governor for his stand, especially when he says he might redirect federal Medicaid funds to other areas of the ailing state budget.

His hope is that a federal stimulus package would come through and make up for those redirected funds.

A coalition group started by the SEIU 1199 union, called Put Patients First, has protested Patrick’s moves against BMC and CHA and staged a protest on Beacon Hill on January 29.

In any case, as CHA’s deficits have mounted, it was forced to take quick action and has been working with state government last month to come up with a working reconfiguration plan.

That plan, unfortunately, included packing up the practice in Winthrop.

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