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Celebrating 50 Years at Daniel Driscoll – Neponset Health Center

24th November 2021

Past and present leaders share gratitude for staff for continuing the story

Harbor Health is celebrating a special milestone at one of our health centers – Daniel Driscoll – Neponset turned 50 years old in 2021!

Past and present members of the Harbor Health team joined together recently to talk about the continuing story of the health center.

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Jean Hunt, a founder of Neponset Health Center, speaking at the recent staff gathering.

Local Beginnings

In the late 1960s, a group of mothers from the Neponset and Port Norfolk areas of Dorchester sat around a kitchen table. They talked about the lack of medical care for their children.

Jean Hunt was one of those mothers.

“Before people started moving out of the city, doctors lived and worked in the community. And as they died off, younger physicians moved out to the suburbs,” Jean shared at the anniversary gathering.

Between 1940 and 1961, the ratio of general practitioners per 100,000 people had fallen from 132 to 67 in the City of Boston – a 50% decrease. The number of internists and pediatricians had also shrunk from 1.4 to 1.3 per 100,000.

Meanwhile, the number of hospital-based providers versus community-based providers had flip-flopped. In 1940, 65% of providers had offices in the community, but by 1961 close to 60% had offices in hospitals.*

To get medical care, city residents had to go to emergency rooms at the hospital. Over 30% of families in Neponset relied on the emergency department at nearby Carney Hospital. Carney was three bus stops away. If you had a car, you had only one and the breadwinner took the car to work.

A few miles away from Neponset, the City of Boston was preparing to address the lack of access to healthcare services. Officials asked the city’s hospitals to help develop community-based centers. The goal was that every neighborhood would have an identified health resource and the community would be actively involved in shaping the services offered.*

Jean and other neighborhood residents formed a health committee. With support from the City, they worked with Carney Hospital to open Neponset Health Center in 1971.

The first month Neponset was open, providers treated over 120 patients. A year later, the health center provided over 11,000 visits.

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Daniel Driscoll, former CEO of Harbor Health, speaking to staff.

Community In Action

The health center quickly outgrew its storefront space. Planning for a new building began and in 1977 the Neponset Health Center moved to its current location.  Daniel Driscoll became the administrator of the health center that year.

At the anniversary gathering, he talked about how the staff have driven the health center’s response to the changing needs of the community. He pointed to the work providers did to learn to treat patients with HIV and address mental health and substance use disorder.

As he told the Dorchester Reporter, “One of the things we used to say at Neponset is that the difference between a private doctor’s office and a neighborhood health center or community health center was that, for the health center, the community was the patient, not just the people in the waiting room.”

“We developed substance abuse programs because that’s what was going on, and it wasn’t in the waiting room. And, in fact, there were people coming in for medical appointments and your ability to treat them was so compromised by the fact that they had all this other stuff going on.”

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Chuck Jones, President & CEO of Harbor Health, thanked staff for continuing the health center’s legacy.

The Continuing Story

And it’s this ability and willingness to see the whole patient that allows the health center’s story to continue.

“The anniversary is an important milestone but those 50 years were racked up one phone call, one check-in, one diagnosis, one conversation and one smile at time,” Chuck Jones, President and CEO of Harbor Health, shared with staff.

“Each of those moments impacted someone’s life, and each deserves a thank you.”

When you walk into the health center at 398 Neponset Avenue today, you may not be able to see or hear all the work that goes into to making sure our patients and clients are welcome, supported, and cared for…but you can feel it.

We thank our amazing, dedicated, and compassionate staff for making Daniel Driscoll – Neponset Health Center a part of your history.

Learn More About Our History

Dorchester Reporter, “All Are Welcome Here.”

Community Health Centers: A Movement and The People Who Made it Happen, Chapter 3

Harbor Health Services History, Community Health Center Story, Chronicles

*This information was included Chapter 3 of Community Health Centers: A Movement and The People Who Made It Happen, By Bonnie Lefkowitz.

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Daniel Driscoll, Jean Hunt, board chair Mary Lou O’Connor, and Chuck Jones at the special 50th anniversary celebration.