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Milford

New health center to provide more primary care in Milford

A satellite office of the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center is expected to open on Cape Street in Milford by this fall, providing services to people without insurance or access to basic health care, regardless of their ability to pay.

Grants totaling $1.2 million from the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts and the MetroWest Health Foundation are supporting the collaborative effort to open the new facility, which will join Kennedy Community Health Center offices in Framingham, Clinton, and Worcester.

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In addition to reducing the barriers to health care, the new Milford center is expected also to help reduce the overall cost of care by targeting those who often rely on expensive emergency room visits for routine care, by helping to manage people’s chronic issues such as diabetes and asthma, and by helping to prevent repeated hospital readmissions because of a lack of follow-up care, according to state Senator Richard T. Moore, a Democrat from Uxbridge.

“We should see an improvement in the health of the whole area,” Moore said, calling the new center in Milford “vitally important to deliver care to every resident and to promote prevention and wellness to our population.”

The announcement is the result of two years of work begun by the Milford Regional Medical Center to address the lack of access to primary care in the area, where one out of every five patients visiting the medical center’s emergency room doesn’t have a primary-care physician, according Francis M. Saba, the regional hospital’s chief executive officer.

“This is a much-needed, and much-wanted project,” Saba said.

Despite efforts by Milford Regional to attract primary-care physicians, including aggressive recruitment and incentive packages, Saba said, there are still signs of problems.

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While 97 percent of people in Massachusetts have health insurance, their access to treatment depends on the availability of care in their area, according to Dr. John P. Gusha, chairman of the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts.

Citing findings by the Massachusetts Medical Society’s Physician Workforce Study, released last fall, Gusha said that one-third of people with insurance still had a problem obtaining health care in the past year, especially in the central part of the state, because of a severe shortage of primary care physicians.

And while this state has more primary-care physicians than others across the country, there is still a shortfall because other specialties are better compensated, according to Saba.

“This is not going to solve the problem of access to primary care,” Saba said of the Milford clinic, “but it will help some of our most needy patients access health care.”

The Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center began in Worcester in 1972, when seven women who had relied on local hospital emergency rooms sought better access to continued health care for their families. Today, there are a dozen Kennedy centers that provide medical and dental services to approximately 24,000 low-income, minority, and uninsured residents of 100 communities across the region, according to the center’s announcement on its plans for the new clinic.

The center in Milford will be approximately 5,000 square feet and will have nine patient exam rooms and four private consultation rooms.

Staffing will start with two physicians and one full-time nurse practitioner or physician assistant working as a team with nurses, medical assistants, a community health worker, and interpreters, according to Antonia G. McGuire, the organization’s president.

The center will provide primary and preventive health services, help patients manage chronic diseases and coordinate their care, and assist patients who qualify to enroll in health insurance programs, according to McGuire. In addition, patients will get help accessing specialty care, mental health services, and lab services, she said.

McGuire said over the past several years, 750 Milford residents have sought care at Kennedy centers in Framingham and Worcester.

With the new facility, she said, “care will be available close to home.”

Speaking at the formal announcement of the health center’s Milford expansion last week, US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III thanked a roomful of people who had worked on the project, and said his uncle’s fight for universal health care is not over.

“If we want a brighter future, then we have to take care of each other. We will be better and stronger if we do. And that’s where we need you,” he said.

“Our work continues. The Affordable Care Act is running for its life every election cycle. It needs our help,” he said. “Especially in Massachusetts, where we have always led the way, we cannot afford to fall behind now. We have to get it right.”

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.

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