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Another petty criticism

Melvin B. Miller
Another petty criticism
“No matter what we accomplish, the media will always have criticism.”

The major concerns for a health clinic are whether the medical care meets professional standards and whether the patients are satisfied with their health care. An objective review of the performance of the Whittier Street Health Center indicates the institution meets those criteria, despite a recent assertion in the Boston Globe that Whittier is mismanaged.

Community health centers are the major source of medical care for many local residents. Perpetual financial difficulties are common for these institutions and the Republican assault on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is a constant threat. Journalistic criticism provides opposition fodder for the conservatives.

Indeed, no institution or management is ever above well-reasoned criticism. But it is unreasonable to require the chief executive of WSHC not to attempt to dissuade some staff from unionizing, and thus create even greater financial difficulties for the institution. Resistance to the decision of about 50 of 300 WSHC employees to join the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers EAST created newsworthy attention.

Unionization invariably increases operating costs. According to WSHC reports, the fiscal year that ended on June 30 is expected to result in a $1.2 million loss. Grants which were supposed to ameliorate this deficit have been denied. Consequently, CEO Frederica Williams has reportedly reduced her salary and eliminated several staff positions.

Every year, the health center treats about 30,000 patients in some 140,000 visits. No one is turned away because of their inability to pay. With 40 percent of the young patients and 35 percent of the adults uninsured, the cost of their treatment has to be compensated for by WSHC financial reserves. About half of the institution’s funding is from donations and grants.

Most of the health center’s patients (91 percent) live below the poverty level, and 45 percent require a translator because they are not fluent in English. A substantial number of patients are immigrants. There is every reason for the board of directors to be supportive of their CEO. Whittier Street Health Center has a Level 3 accreditation from the National Committee for Quality Assurance, the highest recognition possible, an independent study indicates patient satisfaction, and the health center is now housed in a $32 million state-of-the-art facility. Williams did not achieve all this by being a shrinking violet. A man with her disposition would be regarded approvingly as a tough leader. Critics have more disparaging comments for decisive women.

In recognition of their support, the board of directors has unfortunately voted to name the Whittier Street Health Center the Frederica M. Williams Building. Perhaps their judgment was temporarily impaired by their avid support of the CEO. As directors of a nonprofit corporation, they have the legal responsibility to manage objectively the affairs of the organization. It hardly appears that the assessment of the CEO’s performance will be impartial if the building is named after her. It is best to defer such grand gestures until after the CEO retires.

Once again, the Globe has levelled an unwarranted attack against a black institution. This kind of media conduct helps to justify the assertion by some critics that Boston is a racist city.

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