Meeting a diverse population’s health needs

Manchester Community Health Center is celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2008. Much has changed in that time. Health-care costs have escalated, transportation needs have increased, and language and cultural differences have made providing care difficult. No longer can one simply just treat the symptoms. Health care requires a comprehensive “whole person view.”

As the saying goes, no building can be erected on a weak foundation. That’s why MCHC has spent the last 15 years putting in place the necessary pieces to become a premier facility offering high-quality, comprehensive primary and preventive health care that is both convenient and affordable, and focuses on the region’s most vulnerable populations.

That population has grown. We now serve over 6,200 patients annually, as we seek to meet the needs of a diverse community regardless of age, ethnicity or income. Of our patients, 56 percent are uninsured. This number has grown dramatically since the health center first opened its doors in 1993 and shows no sign of slowing down in today’s tough economy. As people continue to struggle financially as a result of the current economy, the more they struggle to gain access to affordable, quality health care.

Getting to the doctor’s office can be difficult enough when you’re not feeling well. Having three children in tow, and a car that’s unreliable – or no car at all – complicates matters even more. Many of our patients have no transportation of their own, and have to depend on buses, cabs or a friend to get them to their appointments.

Then imagine you get there, but do not speak English, the predominant language. Almost 50 percent of the Health Center’s patients do not speak English fluently, meaning one out of every two patients needs an interpreter. Currently, MCHC has the ability to provide Spanish, Portuguese, Bosnian and Somali interpretation services through on-site interpreters. We’re contracting community interpreters by the hour for Arabic, Russian, Albanian and Vietnamese, to name a few of the languages spoken. For others, a telephone interpretation service provides interpretation in over 150 languages. We estimate that our patients speak over 50 different languages.

Five years ago, MCHC spent $30,000 on interpretation services. Last year, that figure was $150,000.

Cultural differences also need to be addressed. We need to “walk the talk” and address the community’s growing needs that seem to be coming at us from all four corners of the globe. Keeping staff current with the many changes in health care as well as the many demands of a culturally diverse population is challenging – and expensive.

The many needs and opportunities that our patients present forced us to recognize that our current home was no longer adequate and that a state-of-the-art facility was needed.

Our new home at 145 Hollis St. is less than a half-mile from the current location, but represents a giant leap forward with better accessibility, more privacy and comfort, expanded clinical space and more exam rooms. Designed and constructed specially to meet current and future needs, the new 16,000-square-foot facility will afford us new opportunities to even better serve the diverse needs of our patients and provide “Health Care for a Stronger Community.”

Edward G. George is president of Manchester Community Health Center. 

Categories: Opinion