Hilltown Community Health Center secures almost $1M for clinic at Smith Voc

  • Hilltown Community Health Center has landed a $963,000 grant from the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to construct a health center at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton. Eliza Lake is the organization’s outgoing CEO and executive director. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 7/18/2023 5:39:45 PM
Modified: 7/18/2023 5:39:16 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Marking a significant step in its plans for a second school-based clinic, Hilltown Community Health Center has received almost $1 million toward a new center at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School.

The Executive Office of Health and Human Services announced the $963,000 award last week, part of $70 million in capital funding for community health centers statewide that was included in the Legislature’s 2022 economic development bill.

“Hilltown Community Health Center meets our people with the care they need in the places where they can access it,” Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, said in a statement. “That’s why the Legislature continues to invest in our community health centers.”

When open, the Smith Vocational Health Center will be one of 42 school-based health centers in the state, offering comprehensive primary care and behavioral health services, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.

“School-based care is a proven model in Massachusetts, and I am happy to see this project move forward to serve our residents,” state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, said in a statement.

In 2022, the Department of Public Health identified Smith Vocational as a priority school for the provision of enhanced on-site health services to improve students’ immediate and long-term health outcomes. In recognition of this need, DPH awarded the Hilltown health center a $150,000 annual grant to establish a new school-based health center at the school.

Smith Vocational enrolls over 530 students from 60 towns and cities in western Massachusetts, with approximately 20% coming from Northampton.

Superintendent Andrew Linkenhoker said Monday he instantly saw the benefits when Hilltown CEO Eliza Lake reached out to him with the idea of a health center at the school. Some students spend more than an hour traveling just one way to the school, making it impossible for them to get to school and a doctor’s appointment on the same day.

“Having those services on campus would really help,” he said.

In addition, Linkenhoker said, having access to a range of health services will give them encouragement to seek care for themselves.

“It aligns with our core mission of preparing students for the workforce,” he said.

The school has some land between its central office building and Cooley Dickinson Hospital next door where the health center will be built, Linkenhoker said.

While it’s not expected that students will work at the health center, in part because of privacy concerns, students in the construction trades may have a hand in building the clinic, which Linkenhoker noted would help keep costs down.

He said he has met with city officials, including Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, and said he’s interested in discussing ways in which the health center can be a benefit to the larger community outside the school.

Lake agreed, saying she saw the new, free-standing building as something that would be accessible to the community outside of school hours and the school year.

As a condition of its annual funding, the state requires that the center provide medical, behavioral health and, for the first time, community health worker services.

“We’re hoping to be able to provide other services as well,” Lake said, such as dental and eye care.

The Smith Voc center would be the second school-based clinic operated by the Hilltown Community Health Center, which has run a center at Gateway Regional School in Huntington for more than 20 years. Its other health centers are Huntington, Worthington and Amherst, and it also operates a community center in Huntington.

Lake, who is stepping down as the health center’s CEO at the end of the month, said it was exciting that the Northampton project might be able to draw on students’ expertise in the construction phase.

The projected construction costs are $2.5 million. The Hilltown health center has applied for federal funding for ongoing operational support and is seeking additional funds from state and local sources.

“This funding is a huge vote of confidence in HCHC to provide the needed services, but we will need to secure additional funds to make the project a reality,” board chair Lee Manchester stated.

Manchester said the board and leadership team will work with local community organizations and leaders to determine the best path toward funding the remaining construction costs, “including the examination of a possible capital fundraising campaign.”


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