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Martha Eliot Health Center celebrates 40 years of compassionate community care

Martha Eliot Health Center celebrates 40 years of compassionate community care
Located in the heart of Jackson Square, Martha Eliot Health Center serves a diverse patient population of families from Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill and other Boston neighborhoods. (Photo: Children’s Hospital Boston)

From its humble beginnings as a makeshift “well-baby” clinic in a woodworking room in Bromley Hall, the Martha Eliot Health Center (MEHC) has certainly evolved. Today the center is a comprehensive provider of pediatric primary care, adult, adolescent, mental health, nutrition, optometry, HIV and early intervention health services to families in Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill and other Boston neighborhoods.

As Children’s Hospital Boston’s community health center, MEHC stands shoulder to shoulder with Bromley-Heath Apartments, a housing development with an estimated 1,000 units and 3,000 residents. The health center was created to provide needed pediatric and adult health care to the families living in Bromley-Heath. It was welcomed by Jamaica Plain families, particularly those with children, who in the past would trek to Children’s for pediatric care.

In 1967, the health center was named after Dr. Martha May Eliot, a well-known social pediatrician who, for more than 50 years, played a leading part in the development of health services for mothers and children.

Located at 75 Bickford Street in the heart of Jackson Square, MEHC is housed in a 25,345-square-foot state-of-the-art building that features 21 patient exam rooms, an optometry clinic, a human services department and administrative offices. More than 120 employees — including physicians, nurses, therapists, nutritionists, social workers and administrators — serve nearly 9,000 patients, who will make an estimated 60,000 visits this year.

Jim Cote is a seasoned professional with deep local roots. As MEHC’s executive director, he aims to support the center’s current program offerings while continuing to provide training and development opportunities to its staff, assessing community needs and expanding services and programs to meet them.

“Many of our patients come in with a barrier prohibiting them from accessing health care, whether it is language, economic or social,” Cote said. “We want to break down those stigmas. We want the community to know that we are Children’s Hospital Boston’s community health center, so our patients receive the same level of care and service than they would at the hospital.”

The center’s staff prides itself on caring for the vibrant local community, which consists of African Americans, Latinos, Somalis, Cape Verdeans and other ethnicities. In addition to celebrating Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, every summer, MEHC hosts an annual community health fair and annual safety fairs, attracting hundreds of local families from all walks of life.

 “It’s about getting into the fabric of our community,” said Karen Darcy, a former co-executive director of MEHC. “Building trust within the community is critically important. It’s why we have health fairs and conduct youth and adolescent outreach. We’re genuinely committed to the community and we’re involved in their tragedies, accomplishments and celebrations.”

All too often, the tragedies are connected to the epidemic of inner-city violence. Through its mental health and social service programs, MEHC has long supported patients with complex challenges related to physical and mental violence, as well as with housing, hunger and substance abuse. According to a recent report conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, two-thirds of Boston high school students said they’d witnessed violence in the past year.

In order to support victims of violence, MEHC, Children’s Hospital Boston and more than a dozen other organizations serving Jamaica Plain residents, including faith-based organizations, schools, housing developments and teen support programs, have formed the Trauma Response Team. By communicating with the Boston Police Department and closely monitoring news reports, the team will seek out victims, their families, neighbors, loved ones and witnesses after a violent act occurs to give them prompt emotional and psychological support.