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The Boston Globe

Metro

Adrian Walker

No straight answers from Roxbury health center

The stately building on Warren Street stands in contrast to the chaos inside Roxbury Comprehensive Community Health Center, a place that manages to be a model of dysfunction without even being open for business.

The center stopped seeing patients two months ago, in the midst of state and federal investigations and a cash crunch that had left it struggling — and at one point, failing — to make payroll.

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Since then, matters have grown worse — but just how much worse is a matter of some confusion.

On Friday, employees were called into a meeting with the center’s board chairman, Dr. Keith Crawford. They say they were told that the center was once again not meeting payroll and that it was permanently closing its doors. Staffers say they were told to come in on Monday and clean out their desks, with a small crew needed after that to help transfer records to the neighboring health care providers who would care for RoxComp’s patients.

The employees — many of who had attempted to sound the alarm about impending problems — were, of course, devastated. They say they couldn’t get clear answers to questions about issues like severance pay and benefits.

But this is where things get confusing. In an interview on Sunday, Crawford said that the center hasn’t closed for good. Though no patients are being seen and the center’s employees are preparing to look for work elsewhere, he insisted that RoxComp will eventually reopen.

“It’s always been a vital part of our community, and it will be a vital part of our community,” he said. To the question, “Do your employees still have jobs?” he offered a series of confusing responses. “The current status of our employees is that we missed payroll,” he said. “Our plan is to have a management team come in that will assist in the management of RoxComp.”

I’ve written before about beleaguered RoxComp, a neighborhood fixture since the late 1960s. In recent years it has been plagued by both medical and financial issues.

Uncertainty and confusion have become commonplace. Now the center may, or may not, be lost.

The current plan, according to Crawford, is to bring in the managers of nearby Harvard Street Community Health Center to try to figure out how to reopen RoxComp, perhaps in a couple of months. Harvard Street’s executive director, Dr. Chidi Achebe, inherited a comparable mess at that institution four years ago, and was able to keep that center from going under. He’s a great choice to lead RoxComp’s revival, if there is to be one.

One of Achebe’s first acts at Harvard Street was to commission a forensic audit that uncovered years of massive financial malfeasance. It’s a safe bet that he would want to do the same at RoxComp.

Achebe said Sunday he is eager to take on RoxComp. “We look forward to working with all the parties and hopefully we can get something done that will save the organization.”

But back to the employees, who will be getting severance paperwork Monday from an organization that pretends it hasn’t fired them. They have been loyal and steadfast, even as their bosses oversaw constant decline. Now they would appreciate a few straight answers, and they can’t get even those.

And there is also a patient community that has, through better and worse, counted on RoxComp for health care. It is one of the state’s poorest neighborhoods, with residents suffering from a high rate of maladies — just the kinds of people health centers were created to care for. Now their primary source of care is on life support.

Achebe said he and his team are determined to help.

“We have a black community organization that is not doing well and we want to prove we have the will and intellectual capital to turn it around for our people,” Achebe said. “That’s our focus. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.”

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter:@Adrian_Walker.
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