A vision come true: John P. Musante Health Center breaks ground downtown

  • The late John Musante. gazette file photo

  • Minjee Kim, a Amherst College student speaks about the study they did on the need for the new health center at the ground breaking for the John P. Musante Health Center in Amherst Friday morning. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Marlene Musante speaks at the groundbreaking for the John P. Musante Health Center in Amherst Friday morning. Behind her is her son, Matthew Musante and daughter, Rachel Musante. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Marlene Musante speaks at the groundbreaking for the John P. Musante Health Center in Amherst Friday. Behind her is her son, Matthew Musante, and daughter, Rachel Musante. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/28/2017 6:32:23 PM

AMHERST — On a Friday morning in September 2015, an announcement of $1 million in federal funding ensured that a community health center, in the heart of Amherst, would one day serve residents’ medical, dental and behavioral health needs, no matter their income level or immigration status.

Learning of this funding, then Town Manager John P. Musante expressed his appreciation and happiness that the money would boost the health of the community. They would be Musante’s last public comments before his unexpected death two days later.

Eighteen months later and nearing the finish line of raising the full $2.4 million for the project, a ceremonial groundbreaking was held Friday at the Bangs Community Center for the John P. Musante Health Center, which his widow, Marlene Musante said “represents the culmination of lifetime of John’s public service.”

Speaking in front of town and state officials, including Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and state Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, as well as family and friends, such as Jim Brassord, who embarks on a 1,400-mile fundraising row along the eastern seaboard Monday, Musante recalled her husband coming home from work that Friday and entering the kitchen with so much joy that the Hilltown Community Health Center would be bringing its services to Amherst.

“To me, John represents the excellence we hope to find in public service,” Musante said, noting that he was always at the forefront of helping those in the greatest need.

She added that the opening later this year of the health center reminds her of one her favorite quips from her husband, “If we’re not careful, we might just get something done here.”

Wright Builders of Northampton is handling the work that will be complete later this year. An estimated 2,700 patients each year will use the clinic for 10,200 primary and preventive medical and dental health care visits annually. The center will have 13 people on staff.

Marlene Musante was joined by her children, Matthew and Rachel.

Matthew Musante said the health center was a project that was most rewarding to his father because of the impact it will have on the community. The generosity from residents, he said, should renew faith in humanity.

“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,” Musante said.

20-year vision

The groundbreaking culminates a 20-year vision of members of the community to provide access to medical, dental and integrative behavioral health care that began with the creation of the Hampshire County Health Care Access Task Force. The task force included three dozen local health providers, service organizations, community groups, town and elected officials, and others who came together to talk about the need for more accessible and affordable care.

Hilltown Executive Director Eliza Lake called Musante the driving factor behind the health center. “Today wouldn’t have been possible without the support of John P. Musante,” Lake said.

More than 270 families and individuals contributed.

“It’s extraordinary that the community recognizes the need and has supported this effort,” Lake said.

Partners in the project have included Cooley Dickinson Hospital, which provided a grant for architectural plans and a feasibility study.

The need for the services at the clinic have been explored by the student-run organization Amherst College Public Health Collaborative, based on a series of interviews and surveys it completed in early 2016 under Jeff Harness, director of community health and government relations at Cooley Dickinson Health Care.

The group conducted surveys to raise awareness of the health center and the health care needs in Amherst.

“There is discrepancy between the academic side of Amherst and the side we don’t usually see,” said Minjee Kim, a senior biochemistry and biophysics major.

Rosenberg said the project is a real-life example of a community that will provide a need for these people who are in the shadows.

“For the community to rally together and recognize the people who don’t have access to health care, it’s a real testament to the values of people who live here,” Rosenberg said.

Goldstein-Rose said he knew John Musante as his baseball coach in middle school, and anticipates a great need for the services, especially with likely cuts in funding at the federal level.

“This is an example of a community making a community investment in open and inclusive health care for everyone,” Goldstein-Rose said.

Stephanie O’Keeffe, who chairs the fundraising committee and served on the Select Board during Musante’s tenure, thanked people for the donations.

“I am blown away by the goodness that has brought us to this point,” O’Keeffe said.

O’Keeffe also recognized the Musante family for allowing his name to be on the center and for being the beneficiary of memorial gifts.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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