Every Step of the Way
"VCLF was committed to our mission. That was what mattered to them, and that made all the difference."
At the Community Health Centers of Burlington (CHCB), Executive Director Jack Donnelly and Community Relations Director Alison Calderara are happily seated amidst a sea of half-unpacked boxes — thirty-six thousand square feet of half-unpacked boxes, to be exact.
CHCB has just relocated to its brand new home at 617 Riverside Drive, in Burlington. After three years of planning, fundraising, and construction, the new center is ready to serve a patient base that has soared to 14,000 — or 550 patient visits per day.
From its humble beginnings in a tiny storefront in Burlington’s Old North End four decades ago, CHCB’s progress is arguably one of the most impressive community health care success stories in the country.
The People’s Free Clinic, located on North Street, was founded in 1971 with a mission to serve patients regardless of their ability to pay. As groundbreaking as that concept was, perhaps even
more remarkable was the fact that the original clinic was staffed entirely by volunteers. By the end of their second year, the clinic had become so busy that 50 patients per week were being seen and treated. As the patient base grew and grew, the clinic changed its name to the Community Health Centers of Burlington to reflect its expanded vision and mission to the larger community.
But a larger community required a larger space. Enter the Vermont Community Loan Fund, which believed in the Center's mission and in the vital importance of its health care services.
“The clinic had grown so quickly, it was bursting at its seams,” recalls Brian Pine, Housing Director for the City of Burlington. “They needed support, and the Loan Fund got involved to help
with the expansion."
Calderara recalls the details of the loan. “The facility needed room for administrative space upstairs in the building,” she remembers. “VCLF was committed to our mission. That was what
mattered to them, and that made all the difference.”
That expansion was only the first of many. In 1989, CHCB was awarded a federal Health Care for the Homeless grant. In 1993, CHCB was designated as Vermont’s second Federally Qualified Health Center, which ushered in a significant expansion of services including social work, a prescription assistance program, an obstetrical and prenatal program, the region’s first paid professional staff interpreter, and a new sliding-scale payment plan. By 2001, another expansion was in the offing, resulting in the construction of CHCB’s 10,000 square foot main facility on Riverside Avenue. Next followed the CHCB Pearl Street Clinic, offering primary and preventive health care, dental care, mental health and substance abuse counseling to homeless persons and at-risk youth, and Housing First, which provides housing for homeless patients with chronicmedical conditions. Next, a dental center was added to the Riverside location, and in 2002, behavioral treatment services were added.
The staff of 135 now provides an estimated 55,000 patient visits per year. Patients include refugees, for whom there is a special translation service that can translate from 22 languages. Medicaid patients, the uninsured, the underinsured, the low-income and homeless make up a significant portion of the patient base.
CHCB's Executive Director Jack Donnelly sums it up: “Once we had so little space. Now, we have the Safe Harbor Center which does dental and medical. We have the Pearl Street Youth Center for those aged 26 years and under. We do outreach to family shelters, onsite, and we have nurses going to homeless camps, and outreach at the Howard Center. With this new facility, it's a whole new phase.”