When Community Health Center decided last year that its Stamford location was no longer sufficient to deliver the kind of health care upon which its reputation has been made, its search for a new site ended less than a mile away.
“I love Stamford,” said Mark Masselli, founder, president and CEO of the nonprofit. “The energy and diversity that’s there, the inordinate amount of intellectual and social capital. It’s a community that seems to work and yet still feels a need to make itself better. It’s a great place for us to put our oar in the water.”
CHC broke ground on its 20,000-square-foot facility at 22 Fifth St. last fall. Although it had previously been the home of another medical office, Masselli said that the result — expected to be completed by October or November — will “essentially be a new building.”
Meanwhile, it will maintain its presence in its 7,000-square-foot building at 141 Franklin St., which will continue to offer dentistry as well as some urgent care services, he said.
CHC has experienced impressive growth since its 1972 launch in a second-floor walkup in Middletown, where it is still headquartered. (“Even though, with today’s technology, you’re sort of headquartered wherever you are,” Masselli remarked.)
Today it offers comprehensive primary care services in medicine, dentistry and behavioral health to more than 145,000 people at 14 Connecticut locations.
In addition, its affiliated Weitzman Institute has expanded CHC’s reach in 37 states through programs like the Community eConsult Network, which allows primary care providers to consult electronically with specialists to determine if an office visit to the latter is needed; the firm’s research has found that about 70 percent of consults result in patients merely needing another visit with their doctor, Masselli said. Such consultation requests are usually completed within 48 hours, he added.
“We began 46 years ago as a volunteer organization,” he said. “Today we’re in a position to attract talented people from as far away as New York City, which again is something made easier by being in Stamford. Nearly all of our employees are full time.”
CHC caters mostly to the underserved and those who cannot normally afford office visits. Masselli noted that it offers a “sliding fee” program to help patients set up payment schedules. That approach is possible through grants and private donations, he said, noting that about 85 percent of its roughly $100 million annual budget comes from the latter. CHC only began accepting direct government assistance in the early 1990s, Masselli said.
One key employee is Adele Gordon, a founding member of The Connecticut Association of Children with Learning Disabilities (CACLD) at the Stamford Public Education Foundation. In 1999 she was part of a group that opened The Dental Center of Stamford, which again catered to those otherwise unable to afford such care; it officially joined CHC in 2005.
Although the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a subject of ongoing debate, Masselli said he felt confident that the need for CHC — and fairly priced health care in general — isn’t going anywhere.
“Health coverage and access are important to every American,” he said. “The Affordable Care Act is part of a long continuum in this space. Medicare wasn’t perfect when it first went out — there have been plenty of changes to it over the years.”
The ACA could also use improvements, he continued, but “I think it’s a settled matter for most of the public, that there is a role for state, local and the federal government to play in providing health coverage for all Americans.”
In addition to its new Stamford location, Masselli said the firm is in the process of purchasing the space it has been renting at 49 Day St. in Norwalk. It also maintains a Danbury office at 8 Delay St.
“There’s a very diverse population in Fairfield County,” he said. “If we think there’s a good fit for us, we will absolutely consider opening more there. We’re hoping to continue to grow.”