Since 1972, Community Health Center, Inc. (CHC) has been building a world-class primary healthcare system for uninsured and underinsured populations. Founded in Middletown, Conn. as a free clinic in a walk-up apartment, CHC has evolved into one of the largest and most innovative primary care health centers in the country. For over 45 years, CHC’s core mission has remained the same: Healthcare is a right, not a privilege.
In 1971, a survey of low-income neighborhoods found people were looking for a community-based care setting where their voices would be recognized. Mark Masselli and a group of Middletown residents, including pharmacist Gerald Weitzman and Reba Moses, along with a group of Wesleyan students, started work to create a free clinic.
They found space in an apartment building and began converting it into offices. Two bedrooms were turned into medical offices. The kitchen became a dental clinic, with equipment donated from a group that gave supplies to missionaries in Africa.
The clinic had five local dentists who donated their time. No local physicians were willing to volunteer, but a friend of a board member came once a month from Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, where he was finishing his residency.
The Cease and Desist Order
A few months after the clinic opened, a complaint signed by 30 local doctors led to a state inspection, during which officials said the hallways were too narrow by one inch. They issued a cease and desist order, essentially putting the center out of business.
Masselli, Weitzman and Moses found a landlord near CHC’s current location, who agreed to rent out the first floor. CHC started construction shortly after, creating the widest hallways ever seen by the health department. Soon, renovations were complete. With the help of Bob Mansfield, an older man with a great heart, CHC opened, licensed as an outpatient facility with medical and dental services.
Overcoming Other Hurdles
Plenty of hurdles remained. For example, a tenant living in an apartment above the center flooded the building three times, leading CHC to understand it needed to control its own space. Masselli and his roommate, John Hickenlooper, then a Wesleyan student, now the governor of Colorado, borrowed money to buy a building. With that purchase, CHC began to grow.
In 1976, CHC received funds from the state of Connecticut for a maternal and child health program. By luck, a series of pediatric chief residents from the Yale School of Medicine came to work for the center.
In 1979, Masselli got a call from a group of Gray Panthers, elder rights activists, in Clinton, 30 miles south of Middletown. The group was involved in Medicare, which did not cover dentistry. Their call led to the first site expansion – a medical and dental operation in Clinton. CHC expands to sites the same way today — with an invitation from a community group.
In 1992, CHC decided there were advantages to being designated as one of the country’s federally funded health centers and — under Section 330, U.S. Public Health Service — received a grant of about $200,000 for its New London site.
Today, CHC serves 130,000 patients at more than 200 locations across Connecticut. It has its own research and innovation arm, the Weitzman Institute, dedicated to inspiring innovation in primary care delivery nationally.
CHC established the nation's first nurse practitioner residency program and sponsors a residency program for clinical psychologists. It provides extensive workforce development training and technical assistance to community health centers throughout the country.
CHC operates Vinnie's Jump and Jive, a community dance hall; New Horizons Domestic Violence Services and Shelter for victims of domestic violence; Wherever You Are Healthcare for the Homeless, which delivers care in shelters; and two Family Wellness Centers. In addition, it offers a diverse range of community programming aimed at empowering all ages to make healthy lifestyle choices.