Community Health Center breaks ground for Knowledge, Technology office in Middletown
By Cassandra Day, The Middletown Press
MIDDLETOWN >> The head of the Community Health Center said he’s often asked whether, when he founded the facility 45 years ago, he foresaw such a long legacy of patient service.
“Of course, what 20-year-old do you know that doesn’t think he can conquer the world?” joked CEO and founder Mark Masselli Monday during a groundbreaking for the new Knowledge and Technology Center at the facility’s future home on Grand Street.
At least 200 North End and other city residents, patients and local and state dignitaries joined for the ceremonial event on the dirt lot that sits kitty-corner from the CHC’s primary care peace & health building at 605 Main St.
The new three-story, 30,000-square-foot building will house information technology, telehealth, communications, human resources and other offices that comprise CHC’s statewide primary care network, according to the organization.
With a host of medical disciplines under one roof, Masselli said, patients benefit from “medicine and dentistry and behavioral health all talking to each other,” which sets CHC apart from most primary care practices.
CHC has more than 45 locations, cares for 145,000 patients and supports primary care practices in 25 states, according to Masselli.
Second-graders from the North End’s Macdonough Elementary School sat in colorful tie-dyed CHC T-shirts and once the time arrived to break ground, each was outfitted with a ceremonial hard hat and had a little fun scooping up a shovelful of earth and tossing it into the air.
State Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown who represents the 100th Assembly District and is known for his proclivity for social media posts on his activities, is “one of the few people who does legislation as well as his tweeting,” Masselli joked.
“I’m so good at tweeting that I’m tweeting right now and you can’t even see it,” Lesser said, before joking that he “got roped into this project five years ago.”
He alluded to early problems the CHC had with getting the new building project to move ahead, which led him to lobby other lawmakers and key state officials for help.
“As state legislators, we sometimes exaggerate our importance, sometimes our own ideas of what we do get ahead of ourselves,” Lesser said. “To be honest, we don’t get too many 3 a.m. phone calls, but I did get a 3 a.m. phone call about this project once, when it looked pretty bad.”
Funding was eventually secured, he said.
“When you put the word ‘community,’ (in front of an organization) that is the correct word for this,” said Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman.
“It is a community health center, for all types of people, for all types of problems, this is a center that people can come here and really feel relieved. I can’t wait until you hire more people — a lot more, I hope,” she said, to laughter.
In the 45 years since its founding, CHC has built facilities in Bristol, Clinton, Danbury, Enfield, Groton, Hartford, Meriden, Middletown, New Britain, New London, Norwalk, Old Saybrook, Stamford and Waterbury, has school-based health and mobile dental centers, and the Weitzman Institute, among others. Masselli said two new collaboration are on the horizon, a health clinic on New Britain Avenue in Hartford, run in conjunction with the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and the building of second primary care location in Stamford.
The CHC’s goal is to allow people to be engaged in their health care by “removing the barriers” of going to a primary care physician, being diagnosed, and then referred to another doctor for a problem, Masselli said.
“Say you go to your physician with a dental problem and you’re told to go find somebody else: ‘Actually, you have diabetes but you also have an associated condition — you’re a little depressed.’ I can have somebody there in the same room talking to you about one, the physical side; and two, the mental health side,” Masselli said.
The CHC has doctors and other practitioners who have come from Yale, Harvard, Brown, Columbia and other universities “who want to work in a place that has a purpose. Our purpose is to care for people in need but people define that themselves,” he said. “We don’t have any exclusion so we’re located in neighborhoods that are poor — we have lots and lots of people who are economically challenged.”
Margaret Flinter, who joined CHC in 1980 is senior vice president, clinical director, a nurse practitioner, and “copilot” of the organization, Masselli said. In 1987, he reached out to Flinter, who had taken time off from work to have her son. “I called her up and I said, ‘Margaret, I’m going off to Tibet for six weeks and will you just come up for the six weeks? That’s all you have to do.’
“She came, she stayed, and thank God,” he told those gathered under the tent.
Longtime Grand Street resident Luigi Furno, whose home adjoins the new Knowledge and Technology Center’s future site, is well-known in Middletown for the garden he lovingly tends every year.
When Furno and his wife would sit in his backyard, taking a rest, Flinter said, “he would generously reach across the fence with a paper sack filled with tomatoes for me in the early years here at the health center.”
“Digging in and planting something is the metaphor today for me: an idea, a building or a tomato plant. Nurturing that idea, building that building, harvesting that tomato plant. This is part of the great cycle of so many people standing here today,” Flinter said.