Editorial: Welcome new health center in Amherst

  • Eliza Lake, executive director of the Hilltown Community Health Centers, talks about the opening of the new health center in Amherst named for John P. Musante, pictured at left, in the Bangs Community Center during a tour June 7. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 6/14/2018 6:05:41 PM

The health center that opened this week in Amherst is a testament to the community’s caring about helping underserved people, and a fitting tribute to the late town manager, John P. Musante.

After 20 years of planning, the John P. Musante Health Center opened Monday at the Bangs Community Center in downtown Amherst. The satellite office of the Hilltown Community Health Centers serves low-income residents, people who are homeless, immigrants without legal documents and others lacking health insurance. An estimated 2,700 patients are expected to visit each year.

“Our goal is, the community identified a need for medical and dental care, and we’re trying to fill some of that need,” says Eliza Lake, executive director of the Hilltown centers. “We will serve anyone regardless of their ability to pay, their insurance or their immigration status. These will be people who have fallen through the cracks.”

Planning began some two decades ago when the Hampshire County Health Care Access Task Force brought together health providers, local officials and community groups. They identified the need for more accessible and affordable care.

Musante, who served as town manager from 2010 until he died unexpectedly at age 53 in September 2015, was instrumental in making that vision a reality with his support. Just two days before Musante died, a $1 million federal grant was announced, and since then the community has raised an additional $1.6 million for the project, with more than 270 families and individuals contributing.

“It’s extraordinary that the community recognizes the need and has supported this effort,” Lake said during a groundbreaking in April 2017. She singled out Musante, who committed the municipal space in the Bangs Center. “Today wouldn’t have been possible without the support of John P. Musante.”

At that ceremony, Musante’s son, Matthew, said naming the health center for his father is a fitting tribute. “It’s a terrific way to remember and honor my dad, and part of his vision of the town to serve people with the greatest need here.”

The 4,000-square-foot health center has four medical exam rooms, three dental laboratories, a lab for drawing blood and an office for a community health worker. A portrait of Musante hangs in the waiting room. It also has a photo of his friend, Jim Brassord, who last year raised more than $100,000 for the center with a 1,400-mile fundraising row along the eastern seaboard.

Brassord took a two-month leave from his job as chief of campus operations at Amherst College for his rowing journey, which he said was inspired by being able to use his training as a marathon runner and triathlete to benefit the center in memory of Musante. “It’s just really resonated for what it means for the community, particularly in these times,” Brassord said before beginning his row in April 2017.

Nicole Makris, a family nurse practitioner, is among the 12 staff members at the health center.”Our goal is to provide service to anyone in Amherst who needs a provider,” she says, adding, “One of the things we love is to see people who are on the entire spectrum of the life span.”

Community outreach worker Biana Salas will help get those people to the health center with visits to places like the Amherst Survival Center, Family Outreach, Casa Latina, the Council on Aging and the Women, Infants and Children program.

The new health center also is being promoted with “MassHealth welcome” signs on buses, alerting people who are covered by the state’s Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program for low-income residents. Anyone who relies on MassHealth and wants to receive their primary care at the Musante Health Center must make the switch by July 1.

Retired state representative Ellen Story, who was a member of the original task force that identified the need for a health center, is pleased with the result. She noted that the health center is welcoming throughout, with vibrant colors and signs in both English and Spanish.

“I’m extremely pleased with it and proud we did it,” she says. “It’s just a jewel in Amherst’s array of amenities.”

We agree and commend all those in the community who made it possible.

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