500 Albany Ave
By Sarah Millar and Carol Correa de Best
Now the biggest and oldest independent health center in Hartford, Community Health Services was founded in 1970 through the efforts of the Clay Hill Improvement Association, the Junior League, the Hartford County Medical Association, the Connecticut Regional Medical Program and other community and city and business agencies.1 The institution was also started with the aid of Dr. Evan Daniels, a practitioner in the North End. In its early years, the center was located down the street at 1023 Albany Ave, a building originally constructed in 1950. Nearly 2 years later, in 1972, Community Health Services’ demand had grown dramatically. In order to accommodate this growth, the institution moved into an old “Stop and Shop” building at 520 Albany Ave, right across from its current location. (This building has now been demolished) The Hartford Courant reported, “the new clinic houses 10 examination rooms, five consultation chambers, a laboratory and several conference rooms…The new center will provide its normal services on an expanded scale as well as offering a new dental screening and X-ray program.”2 In 1981, the center received a $100,000 grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, which it used to add a second nurse midwife and acting administrator to the staff.3 After 15 years of service from the 520 Albany Ave location, Community Health Services began construction on their current building in 1997.
Originally a vacant lot, 500 Albany Ave is now home to a 3-story (4 stories, including the unfinished basement) building incorporating even more services than the original. Made of brick and concrete, the newly constructed building emulates a modern spin on Gregorian architecture. The red brick and square columns are characteristic of this colonial-type architecture, though the institution modernizes the building through the use of large glass windows and an asymmetrical portico. Surrounding the building is a black metal fence, punctuated by columns similar to those seen on the building itself.
Inside, Community Health Services again mixes traditional and modern archetypes, reminiscent of the mentality of the institution. While transforming the concept of health care to incorporate the insured and uninsured, documented and undocumented, the lobby of the building literally and figuratively invites all. As it displays banners in assorted languages welcoming all patrons in the waiting area with the notation of “se habla español” (see first picture), the building emanates a sense of openness and hospitality. Adorning many of the walls are plaques dedicated to both institutions and individuals, commemorating some of the factors that made the building and Community Health Services possible. Although the main waiting area is still under construction, the three floors of service areas are in very good condition. The basement, which is also in the process of being finished, will likely be converted into office space. Because the building is still being somewhat renovated, ts exact dimensions and square footage are not final. However, patrons and employees of the institution claim that the new building seems to be about ten times the size of the 520 Albany Ave location.
Although the institution is privately owned, it is very accessible to the public. Its mission statement, in fact, states: “Our mission is to improve health care access and eliminate health disparities within the community, by providing quality, comprehensive, culturally-proficient, primary and preventive health care services with respect and dignity, regardless of socio-economic status, with emphasis on the under-served and the uninsured.”4 This makes CHS a haven for preventative health care for under-privileged migrants/ immigrants.
The new structure is located in a relatively commercial section of town, across from a few small bodegas and other specialty stores. Although the black fence around the building would lend the assumption of a need for security, the atmosphere of the community surrounding Community Health Services implies otherwise. A few apartment buildings line the opposite side of the street facing the façade of the building and pedestrians are certainly not lacking on Albany Ave despite the cold weather. The black fence, therefore, seems necessary not for keeping anything out, but rather for simply outlining the property.
As of 2006, Community Health Services had served over 15,000 individual patients and had over 65,000 visits. According to the 2007 Annual Report, 94% of the patients using the institution were non-white. 34.7% of these patients were identified as Hispanic( Puerto Rican in particular); further, 34.8% of patients were grouped “Best Served in a Different Language.”5 CHS has become a place to celebrate culture and ethnicity, patients feel welcomed and service is the best. Community Health Services has definitely been beneficial and useful to the minority community, especially Puerto Ricans. With over 40% of Hartford’s population claiming Hispanic Heritage in 2004,6 the comparative number of Hispanic patrons of CHS is indicative of its importance to the community.
CHC operates under the philosophy that being able to communicate with health care providers and receive medical attention whether or not you are insured is essential in any community. It could mean at worst -life or death or a lifetime of suffering. CHC serves people like a child who was born to a teen mother in Puerto Rico, in 1985. The mother was 15 and 95lbs, due to the tight positioning in the uterus the baby girl was born with Tibial Torsion, where her left foot was turned so far in that walking would be deterred and a limp seemed unavoidable. The teen mother with $100 in her pocket traveled to Hartford, to receive medical care for her baby. Once situated in Hartford she was directed to Community Health Services, by family and newly made friends. The child was assessed by a pediatrician who spoke some Spanish and nurses/medical assistants who where fully bilingual. This eased the stress for the young mother and helped her trust the medical provider. Diagnoses was explained in her native language, and she understood the gravity of the problem her daughter faced. The baby was given all vaccines and kept in good health. She was then referred to a private Dr. in the suburbs who at no charge (he did not accept the welfare medical plan) fixed the baby’s foot by setting weekly casts, prescribing special shoes, teaching the mother exercises and following her progress till age 5. Additional support services where offered by CHS in the form of bus passes, and phone call follow up to appointments for the Mother and child. Today the young woman has no signs of the condition and is very proud to wear the high heeled shoes that is the signature of the Puerto Rican woman. The exceptional care she received from CHS made walking correctly possible for this child. This just one story of many in the community.
While Community Health Services continues to grow, the services it provides to the community also increase. They currently provide Adult Internal Medicine, Adolescent Medicine, Behavioral Health, Dental Care, Optometry, Pediatrics, Podiatry, and Women’s Health.7 Through generous donations from other institutions and individuals, such as Aetna,8 the center has been able to expand its resources to provide to any and every person that walks through its doors. The majority of patrons of the center claim to have almost always utilized Community Health Services, they also overwhelming acknowledged the positive impact it has had on the North End community and Hartford as a whole. As people struggle with various obstacles, from small budgets to non-documentation, Community Health Services provides a secure location in which they are comfortable and well-treated. “CHS is not a clinic,” the website states. “We are a community health center where you can bring your entire family, and receive the same close, personal care and medical expertise you would expect from a private practice or hospital.”9 With this level of commitment to its patrons, it is no wonder the center has been so successful. Furthermore, the institution also has a commitment to credibility. Although accreditation is not necessary for their activity, Community Health Services became accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations. According to their website, “CHS undertook this effort as part of our commitment to excellence in our clinical practices, and providing every patient the quality of care they deserve.”10 In both actions and words, Community Health Services is genuinely dedicated to the fair treatment and health of its patients.