Community health centers that provided critical health care and information to vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic are getting a funding boost from the city of Boston.
The Boston Public Health Commission announced Wednesday that it had awarded $1.4 million in grants to seven Boston-based organizations working to reduce health inequities across the city. The funding comes from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act.
“Community health centers are a key ally in our mission to improve health equity across Boston,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, commissioner of Public Health and executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, in a statement. “Expanding [their] services and capacity … is paramount as we continue to work towards an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The grants will support efforts by the health centers to bring residents who experienced delays in care or lack of health services during the pandemic back into the health care system. The news comes as many community based organizations across the city are reporting a greater need for their services and a loss of some of the public and donor funding made available during the pandemic.
Jagdeep Trivedi, CEO of grant recipient Uphams’ Corner Health Center, said the funding will allow his organization to expand into mobile health care and better reach patients who face barriers to visiting their brick and mortar locations. Services offered aboard the organization’s vans could range from basic oral care, blood pressure screenings, vaccinations, educational information, and other routine health screenings people may have stopped getting during the pandemic, said Trivedi, who added his group was still in the early stages of planning how to use the new resources.
“We’ve engaged in mobile health before, in a limited capacity, but … that traditionally has not been something sustainable for us,” he said.
Harbor Health Services, which operates two centers in Dorchester that received funding, will expand its workforce. It plans to hire a patient care navigator to help residents understand and use health resources and a financial counselor to help the public with insurance policies and issues, according to Ami Bowen, its vice president of marketing and community engagement.
“The main goal is to catch folks up on the care they may have put off for a while because of the pandemic or other life demands,” Bowen said. That mission, she said, has been hampered by rising inflation and the financial ramifications of the pandemic, which created a greater need for social support services like housing and food assistance. Meanwhile, much of the funding made available during the pandemic for health equity initiatives has dried up.
Other recipients of the 2023 COVID-19 Community Health Equity Response Grants include the Whittier Street Health Center, Dorchester House Health, the Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center, and the Charles River Community Health Center.
In addition to financial funding, grantees will also collaborate with several BPHC departments, including the Bureau of Infectious Disease and Office of Public Health Preparedness, to create coordinated responses to the health challenges disproportionately faced by historically marginalized communities in the city.
Stronger partnerships between health organizations and the communities they serve are the surest way of creating more equitable health systems, Bowen said. “That’s how you create long-term solutions, and it’s incredible that the city is taking that approach.”