Founded in 1971, the mission of Fenway Health is to enhance the wellbeing of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and all people in our neighborhoods and beyond through access to the highest quality health care, education, research and advocacy.
Motivated by the belief that healthcare is a right, not a privilege, politically active area residents and politicians opened a one-day-a-week drop-in center in the basement of a building owned by the Christian Science Church. The center was staffed by volunteer medical students dedicated to serving the diverse Fenway neighborhood—a neighborhood that includes many seniors, LGBT people, low-income residents, and students. Reflecting this mission, the founders named the center Fenway Community Health Center.
In order to accommodate an increase in demand for services, Fenway Health moved into a larger space in the basement of 16 Haviland Street in 1973. Fenway Health then incorporated as a freestanding health center and elected a volunteer governing board. In 1975, Fenway Health saw 5,000 patients and employed 10 full time staff.
In 1980, health care providers in New York and San Francisco began observing a pattern of cancer-like symptoms among gay men. The National Center for Disease Control named the syndrome Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID). In the same year, Fenway Health opened a laboratory while Dr. Ken Mayer volunteered his time to initiate the Center’s earliest infectious disease research. In 1981, Fenway Health made the first diagnosis of AIDS in New England. Subsequently Fenway Health’s Board of Directors created an ad hoc committee charged with developing a series of AIDS Forums to address the medical and psychosocial implications of AIDS, which later evolved to become the independent AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts.
Two years later, Fenway Health pioneered the first home-based Alternative Insemination (AI) program in the nation, launched an AIDS hotline, and conducted the first HIV/AIDS outreach at Boston’s annual Gay Pride celebration. Collaborating with Harvard Medical School in 1984, Fenway Health became one of the first medical facilities in the US to culture HIV from blood and semen samples. This project marked the beginning of a long-term collaborative relationship with both the medical school and Harvard’s School of Public Health. By 1988, Fenway Health became the first medical facility to offer the experimental HIV treatment Aeorsol Pentamidine, hired its first full-time nurse, hired a second full-time physician, and revised its mission statement to reflect its commitment to the gay and lesbian community.
Fenway Health launched several programs in 1989 including its Substance Abuse Counseling Program, Gay and Lesbian Helpline, Lesbian Health Task Force, and Violence Recovery Program (VRP). Additionally Fenway Health became one of the first medical facilities in the state to utilize acupuncture as a pain management treatment for people with HIV. By 1991, Fenway Health’s anonymous testing program performed 40% of all anonymous HIV tests in the state, and saw 500 patients living with HIV — second in the state only to then Boston City Hospital. After a successful $4 million building campaign, Fenway Health moved out the basement at 16 Haviland St. into a new a state-of-the-art facility at 7 Haviland St.
The first annual Fenway Health Women’s Dinner Party, a fundraising gala benefitting the Women’s Health program, occurred in 1992. The dinner party would quickly become the largest fundraising event of its kind in the nation. 1992 also marked the launch of new outreach and training programs, including a program providing HIV education and outreach to men of color, and training mental health professionals on how to identify and respond to gay, lesbian, and HIV/AIDS health issues. The following year the Lesbian Health Series launched, providing outreach and education to lesbians at high-risk of developing breast cancer.
In 1994 the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases selected Fenway as one of eight sites — and the only community-based health center — to recruit patients for the nation’s first HIV vaccine trials. With an operating budget of eight million in 1995, Fenway Health had 54,000 patient visits, with 40% of visits related to HIV/AIDS. The Center celebrated 25 years of operation in 1996. In 1998 and 1999, Fenway Health produced the first Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s Health Research Forum in New England, held the first annual Audre Lorde Women’s Cancer Awareness Brunch, and provided more than 800 free hepatitis vaccinations to the community.
The Fenway Institute launched in 2001, a national interdisciplinary center dedicated to ensuring cultural competence in health care for the LGBT community through research and evaluation, training and education, and policy and advocacy. The Fenway Health Men’s Event drew a record 1,500 attendees in 2003, which raised more than $250,000 to support the center’s programs and services. In 2004, Fenway opened its onsite pharmacy offering discounted prescription medications to Fenway patients. Later that year, Fenway Health launched its Transgender Health Program to help provide care to this underserved population.
To launch its 2006 capital campaign, Fenway Health broke ground in Boston’s West Fen’s neighborhood, marking the future site of its 10-story, 100,000 square foot facility at 1340 Boylston St. In anticipation of the new capabilities the space would provide, Fenway Health expanded its Women’s Health department in 2008. Fenway Health’s new home opened its doors on March 30th, 2009 — the largest building constructed by an organization with a specific mission to serve the LGBTQ community. The new facility allowed for the creation of dentistry and eye care services, expansion of both the behavioral health and medical departments, and a dedicated space for the Women’s Health program.
On July 1st, 2010, the Sidney Borum, Jr. Health Center joined the Fenway Health family. To this day, the Borum operates as part of Fenway Health with the mission of serving marginalized and disenfranchised young people, including those who are LGBTQ; homeless or living on the streets; struggling with substance use or abuse; sex workers; or living with HIV/AIDS.
In November, The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published the results of the iPrex study which showed that pre-exposure use of HIV medications helps protect gay and bisexual men and transgender women from HIV infection. The Fenway Institute, under the leadership of Dr. Ken Mayer, was one of only two United States study sites and Dr. Mayer was one of the authors of the NEJM article on the study. The study involved 2,499 people in 6 countries on four continents and the study findings were some of the most exciting news in the battle against HIV in many years, receiving widespread coverage in the world press.
AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts became part of Fenway Health once again in 2013, improving delivery of care and services to people living with HIV/AIDS, and strengthening advocacy, prevention, and research efforts. In 2014, the Fenway Institute partnered with AIDS United and AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin to launch the country’s first National Center for Innovation in HIV Care. Funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the three partners traveled the country, sharing best practices for HIV care and prevention with community health centers, AIDS service organizations and other community-based organizations. Later in the year, the Fenway Institute was awarded $813,000 in funding to study the sexual health of female-to-male (FTM) transgender people. Sari Reisner, ScD, led the pioneering project which focused on innovations in preventative sexual health screenings in sexually-active FTM transgender patients.
2015 marked a busy year for Fenway Health. The Fenway Institute published results from the Project VOICE survey of transgender Massachusetts residents, showing that nearly two-thirds had experienced discrimination in public accommodations, including restaurants, public transportation and health care settings. Fenway’s National LGBT Health Education Center held a first-of-its kind medical conference focused on transgender health. That same year, more than 2,300 transgender patients received care at Fenway Health. Fenway’s Alternative Insemination Program saw the birth of its 500th baby. Fenway’s Ansin Building practice at 1340 Boylston Street was named a Level 3 Patient-Centered Medical Home by the National Committee for Quality Assurance. The second edition of The Fenway Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health was published in conjunction with the American College of Physicians. Lastly, $500,000 in free and discounted medication was given out by the Fenway Pharmacy’s two branches to help meet the needs of low-income patients.
Fenway Health added Family Medicine services in 2016, providing services to patients of every age group. Both 1340 Boylston St. and Fenway: South End achieved the Patient-Centered Medical Home PRIME certification from the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission for integrating behavioral health services into primary care.
In FY17 nearly 30,000 patients made 159,500 patient visits across Fenway Health’s sites - 2,200 of whom are patients living with HIV and 3,200 of whom are transgender patients. Fenway Health provided $1,400,000 in free and discounted medication at its pharmacy branches for low-income patients, filling more than 500 prescriptions every day. Fenway Health remains committed to treating all patients, irrespective of their ability to pay.