SALEM — Efforts to build a new community health center at one of the city’s busiest intersections are progressing, though project leaders are still working to secure major sources of funding.
North Shore Community Health and the North Shore Community Development Coalition aim to build a new series of health facilities and affordable housing options at North Shore Bank’s current location at 73 Lafayette St. at the intersection of Lafayette, Derby and New Derby streets. The building, currently two stories high, sits on the Children’s Corner of Salem Fire Department Headquarters in downtown.
Leaders of those two organizations met with U.S. Representative Seth Moulton, D-Salem, during a site visit Monday to thank him for the federal funding and to ask for more.
Moulton secured $1 million for the project in the past fiscal year – which will pay to equip the new clinic with the necessary medical technology – and also recently announced a $1 million grant, pending approval. congressional approval, for the Lynn Community Health Center and Pharmacy, which also serves low-income and underinsured Lynn residents and is operated by a separate entity. NSCH has clinics in Salem, Peabody and Gloucester.
After attending a grand opening at the Lynn site on Monday morning, Moulton traveled to Salem. He is due to visit Gloucester and Newburyport on Tuesday for three other projects he has helped fund.
“Your million dollars have certainly been put to good use,” said Margaret Brennan, president and CEO of NSCH. “We have a pending request with Senators (Elizabeth) Warren and (Edward) Markey as well, for Congressional directed spending for this year, which we have not heard of. We are targeting this for emergency care and behavioral health expansion, which are important parts of the new construction project.
“We’d love your help on this,” Brennan added. Moulton immediately replied, “Yeah, we can definitely mention that.”
Details on the overall cost of the Salem clinic project and funding sources were not immediately available Monday. The redevelopment project was first announced early last year.
According to Mickey Northcutt, executive director of North Shore CDC, the total budget for the project is around $70 million – including the housing component – and they plan to pursue a combination of grants and tax credits.
“Urgent care in downtown Salem…can you imagine what a pressure valve it will be to open up radiology to everyone?” Brennan said. “For our patients and others, (the project provides) more dental care. We will double the number of chairs we have. We will have more primary care.
There is a feeling that the model of care itself needs to change as the clinic moves from its location at 47 Congress St. to a larger building. The health center is operating as it should to keep the doors open, with an emphasis on quick 15-minute visits for each patient.
“That’s how we get paid, to keep our doors open. We are still paid per visit,” said Damien Archer, co-chief medical officer. “We had to learn to provide care on a 15-minute cycle rather than feeling what you feel when you go to a lawyer for legal advice. … We have to get a prescription and give something that’s not necessarily what people need to be involved in their health and trust the system.
As a result, when the model fails and gains confidence, the health of the community also slips, according to Brennan.
“After the pandemic, we see a lot of people delaying care, of course, and obviously tons of behavioral health — especially with kids,” she said. “Then there is also drug addiction, of course. We have a fairly large treatment program, especially for a health center of our size. I think Lynn has… about 700 people.
“We have over 400,” Archer added, “and we’re a third the size of Lynn. So we care disproportionately for many more people per capita.
The redevelopment project has sparked discussions downtown due to its scale during the review process, which is ongoing and hopes to be completed by the end of this year or early next year, according to Northcutt .
The building is two stories high, and although it has two minimum four-story buildings at each neighboring corner, the scale has always drawn concerns from naysayers who favor the size of the existing building over what is proposed.
With medical, dental and behavioral health operations using lower floors, senior housing will target those above, according to Northcutt.
“There are almost no one-bedroom apartments for rent on the market. All of these buildings (at The Point) were built for large family accommodation. It’s great, but one of the problems in the market is that there are no studios or one bedroom,” he said. “There is no seniors housing at The Point, and it’s kind of crazy that it hasn’t happened over the years.
“We’re excited to have beautiful new buildings, and we’re thinking about the building now,” Northcutt continued, looking at Brennan. “Once everything is built, our organizations are doing really complementary things alongside each other. We’re on different paths, but we think it’s cool to think about having a really integrated relationship like this with a stable population.