Hunt recounts Mass. origins of community health centers

Jim Hunt says community health centers got their start in Massachusetts because of the old axiom that all politics is local.

 Hunt, the president and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, said two Tufts University medical school physicians, Jack Geiger and Count Gibson Jr., had studied how South Africa launched community clinics and came to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in the early 1960s with the idea of replicating the concept here. At a time when Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty was taking shape, Geiger and Gibson believed that people without means deserved access to medical care if the cycle of poverty was ever going to be broken. Kennedy, according to Hunt, liked the idea and had a strategy for making it happen.

 “Kennedy said that is fabulous as long as we do one in Speaker of the House John McCormack’s district at Columbia Point,” Hunt said on The Codcast with Health and Consequences hosts Paul Hattis, recently retired from Tufts University Medical School, and John McDonough of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “So that’s really the essence of the start of the community health movement in Massachusetts.”

 The concept quickly caught on, expanding from Dorchester to Mississippi and then on to Denver, Chicago, and New York. By 1971, according to the league’s website, there were 150 health centers across the country, 17 of them in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts League of Community Health Center officially was formed in 1972, when 24 health centers came together at a meeting at Northeastern University. 

 Hunt joined the league full time in 1977 and moved into the top job in 1978. He is retiring at the end of this month and plans to stay on for six months to help with the transition to his successor, Michael Curry, the current chief operating officer and legal counsel.

 A colorful story-teller, Hunt recounts the origins of community health centers, his success in getting a loan forgiven by telling the truth (that the original purpose of the loan was a bad idea), and the willingness of former Senate president William Bulger to essentially write a blank check to community health centers for a safety net program designed to treat people without health insurance.

 Hunt said community health centers have a history of being fiercely independent and reflecting the communities in which they operate. But he said market forces have prompted a number of affiliations and outright mergers over the years, and the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers has stepped up to serve as a vehicle for industry-wide collaboration. The latest example is contact tracing, with the league signing a contract on behalf of the health centers with the nonprofit the state enlisted to carry out contact tracing, Partners in Health.

 “Working together we’re stronger,” Hunt said.

 BRUCE  MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

MCI-Norfolk prisoner in his 80s dies of COVID-19, the ninth inmate to die of the virus in Department of Correction custody since the start of the pandemic. 

Of the state’s two largest landlords, the MBTA is far more forgiving with its tenants than the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The Baker administration says the initial 300,000 COVID-19 vaccination doses the state will receive will be used as the first of a two-dose treatment. 

Opinion: Drs. Lee Schwamm and Edward Feldmann urge a legislative conference committee not to place too many restrictions on telehealth. … US Rep. Lori Trahan and Rosalin Acosta, the governor’s secretary of labor and workforce development, say it’s time to build on the registered apprenticeship program. …The challenges facing the elderly go way beyond COVID-19, says former state senator Richard Moore. … Jim Jordan speculates on what a Biden administration could mean for a shift in US policing. 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Calls are growing for Gov. Charlie Baker to roll back reopenings in the state as COVID cases surge. (Boston Herald) Joe Battenfeld says Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, who has been outspoken in his criticism of Baker, may be setting the stage for a run against the governor — if he seeks a third term in 2022. (Boston Herald)

Massachusetts may join the other 49 states in having interlock devices for some first-time drunken drivers. (Patriot Ledger)

The Brutalist-style Charles Hurley state office building in Boston will be spared the wrecking ball in redevelopment plans. (Boston Globe)  

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Homicides and nonfatal shootings are up sharply in Boston this year. (Boston Globe)

Peabody residents are unhappy about unusually high water bills – which municipal officials are blaming on the drought and pandemic. (The Salem News)

Fire chiefs in Methuen and Lawrence both test positive for COVID-19. (Eagle-Tribune)

Volunteers with Massachusetts Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary aid 40 cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley sea turtles that were found washed up along several Cape beaches on Sunday. (Cape Cod Times)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The state’s hospitals have been hemorrhaging money during the pandemic despite federal relief money, according to a new report from CHIA. (The Salem News

The number of deaths at Hillcrest Commons Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Pittsfield rises to 24, an increase of 9 since Thursday. (Berkshire Eagle)

UMass Memorial Health Center is seeking to hire new health care workers of all kinds to staff a COVID-19 field hospital at the DCU Center. (Telegram & Gazette)

Massachusetts hospitals are beginning to scale back elective procedures in an effort to free up beds as coronavirus pushes hospitals towards capacity. (GBH)

Patients haven’t been showing up for their regular check-ups and screenings in New Bedford, an impact of the ongoing pandemic. (Standard-Times)

Front line health care workers who care for COVID-19 patients are burned out and exhausted, and many appear to be leaving the field. (Telegram & Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Rochelle Wolensky, the head of the infectious diseases unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, is picked by president-elect Joe Biden to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (NPR) California attorney general Xavier Becerra has been tapped as secretary of health and human services. (New York Times)

Sweden introduces new and tougher restrictions as infections mount. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Joining the list of those in President Trump’s circle who have been infected, Rudy Giuliani — who met without a mask last week with legislators in Michigan, Arizona, and Georgia —  has coronavirus. (Washington Post) The Arizona state House of Representatives and Senate announced they would close down for a week following the news. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

Danvers Democrat Sally Kerans raised more money to win her State House seat than all of her four opponents combined. (The Salem News)

Some Western Massachusetts electors plan to cast their Electoral College vote for Joe Biden – while questioning whether the Electoral College is even necessary anymore. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

State education commissioner Jeff Riley is pressuring the state’s three largest school districts — Boston, Worcester, and Springfield — to bring students with disabilities back for in-person instruction. (Boston Globe)

Citing in-school COVID-19 transmission, Framingham returns to remote learning. (WBUR) Cambridge does too. (Boston Globe

New York City is moving in the opposite direction, opening its elementary schools based on arguments that in-person instruction is safe for younger children. (New York Times

Opposition appears to be growing in western Massachusetts to holding MCAS exams this spring. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

TRANSPORTATION 

The MBTA is one of several large transit agencies weighing huge cuts in service because of the budget devastation caused by the pandemic. (Boston Globe)

ARTS/CULTURE

The American Heritage Museum in Hudson is displaying the last fully restored and able to fly fighter plane that survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Film and Television Industry Alliance announced that a new Star Wars TV series would be shot in Boston, Massachusetts – only to issue a correction that it would actually be shot in Boston, England. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Police advocates say officers could quit if the police reform bill becomes law. (Gloucester Daily Times)

A new system instituted by the Trial Court will remind defendants of court dates via text message. (Gloucester Daily Times)

The Department of Correction revises the way it reports medical paroles after two inmates die shortly after release. (WBUR)