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Support voiced for proposed health clinic at Bangs Center in Amherst

Gale Kuhn of Montague picks out some pastries from the free bread and produce program to bring to the seniors at the Peace Pagoda in Leverett. Amherst Senior Center Program Director Maura Plante, walking at left, checks people into the program at the Bangs Community Center each Wednesday morning. The Bangs Center is being considered as an additional location for a Hilltown health clinic. Not everyone who uses the center is in favor of this proposal. 
KEVIN GUTTING

Gale Kuhn of Montague picks out some pastries from the free bread and produce program to bring to the seniors at the Peace Pagoda in Leverett. Amherst Senior Center Program Director Maura Plante, walking at left, checks people into the program at the Bangs Community Center each Wednesday morning. The Bangs Center is being considered as an additional location for a Hilltown health clinic. Not everyone who uses the center is in favor of this proposal. KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

A petition supporting the creation of a wellness center in downtown Amherst that would provide medical care for underserved populations was given to the Select Board Monday.

Alan Root, a member of the group organizing the petition drive, said there is demand for such a center and urged town officials to negotiate with the Hilltown Community Health Center on providing the service.

“The idea is having a wellness clinic in the basement of the Bangs Center,” said Root, who lives at Ann Whalen Apartments.

The petition effort started after the Oct. 18 Council on Aging meeting in which concerns were raised about whether the people who might use such a health center would have an impact on the senior center and its service to elders, according to Root.

Town Manager John Musante has suggested the possibility of bringing the health center to the basement offices where Leisure Services and Supplemental Education is housed, with the town department then moving to the vacant East Street School.

Edward Sayer, executive director of Hilltown Community Health Center, said the plan is to have a satellite office open within the next year.

In a statement this week, Nancy H. Pagano, director of the Amherst Senior Center, said “health care for everyone that is affordable and accessible is vital.

“To this end, a prestigious committee has been working for some time to establish a satellite health center in our region as our area hospital is so far away. Amherst Senior Center staff and COA members applaud and support this effort as it dovetails with our own healthcare programs, including our free nursing center and numerous low cost clinics, which have been serving those on fixed income for many years, thanks to generous donations and grants.”

She noted that the Council on Aging and some members of a Senior Health Advisory Committee gathered at a meeting called by Musante to learn more about the proposal. She said people who attended were encouraged to express concerns.

“It is early in the process and more discussions will be planned,” Pagano said in the statement. “We hope that whatever decision is made will show sensitivity to its impact on the safety, health, and well-being of our fast growing vulnerable population of elderly Senior Center participants.”

Mary Wentworth, of Clark House, said establishing the health center gets the municipal building closer to the objective of Edward and Fannie Ward Bangs, whose wills left money for establishing a hospital in downtown Amherst.

“I think we’d all feel more secure with a medical clinic at the Bangs Center,” Wentworth said.

In 1974, town officials went to Hampshire County Probate Court to receive a ruling that the Bangs trust could be used for general health care needs and not just a hospital. Once this happened, about $155,000 from the Bangs trust was used toward the $1 million project that was approved by Town Meeting in March 1977. The community centered opened in 1978. Root said the wellness center could work well if it is appropriately isolated from the senior center section of the Bangs Center. Clients and staff at the wellness center would enter through the rear door, which is handicapped accessible, and new bathrooms could be built. The rest of the building would only be accessible from the wellness center in case of emergency.

“It might be helpful to have this close to Ann Whalen and Clark House, an easy place to get to for seniors,” Root said.

He observed that some ill people already go to the building to use the health offices on the second floor, and to access the senior center’s nurse and social workers.

Hwei-Ling Greeney, of McClellan Street, also voiced her support for the center. She said there are many people whose dental needs could be met by a clinic, though Sayer has indicated that dentists may not be available until its second year.

Are people really against a walk-in clinic in the Bangs Center? Disgraceful.

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