Delivery of Care

Investing in the bricks and mortar of better health care

The urban Neighborhood Health Station in Central Falls, the first of its kind in the nation, will soon open its doors

Photo by Richard Asinof

Ray Lavoie, executive director of Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, at the Neighborhood Health Station in Central Falls now under construction.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 8/27/18
With the opening of the nation’s first urban Neighborhood Health Station in Central Falls a few weeks away, Blackstone Valley Community Health Care Executive Director Ray Lavoie shared his excitement about how the new facility promises to transform the delivery of health care in Rhode Island’s smallest city.
What are the opportunities to build other Neighborhood Health Stations to serve other communities in Rhode Island? What are the metrics of investing in community-driven health care centers, independent of hospital systems? When will CommerceRI Secretary Stefan Pryor arrange a tour of the new facility? What are the opportunities to coordinate EMS care with urgent care in Central Falls and Pawtucket? How will the local health equity zone serving Pawtucket and Central Falls coordinate activities with the Neighborhood Health Center?
The decision by Ortho Rhode Island, the largest orthopedic group practice in the state, to consolidate its operations around a new facility in Warwick, opens up the conversation about the future of physician group practices and whether or not they choose to align with hospital systems. Brown Physicians, Inc., a nonprofit division created by Brown University for a number of faculty specialty practices, is currently advertising both on billboards and on broadcast media platforms. How both developments “co-exist” with the proposed merger of Care New England and Partners Healthcare, and with ongoing talks about potential collaboration with Lifespan, remains to be seen.

CENTRAL FALLS – It has been nearly two years since ground was broken for the new Neighborhood Health Station in the smallest city in Rhode Island, with native daughter Viola Davis lending a shovel, offering a message of hope and perseverance to the residents of the city, one that seemed to reflect the dialogue from one of Davis’s memorable characters from “The Help” – you are smart, you are important, you are kind.

Last week, Ray Lavoie, the executive director of Blackstone Valley Community Health Center, which is building the new 47,000-square-foot facility, gave ConvergenceRI a walk-through of the construction site, where a platoon of workers were busily putting the finishing touches on the three-story building.

Two days earlier, Gov. Gina Raimondo and Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien, accompanied by CommerceRI Secretary Stefan Pryor, had held a news conference at Slater Mill to talk about the commitment to invest in rebuilding Pawtucket, following the decision by the Pawtucket Red Sox to move to Worcester, Mass.

When ConvergenceRI started to ask about the economics of investing in community-based health care, framing the question in the context of the Governor’s news conference, Lavoie interrupted, quipping, with a smile: “We can’t move to Worcester, for the record.”

Indeed, the foundation of the community health center is built on the bedrock of serving the health needs of the local community in Pawtucket and Central Falls.

With the opening of the new Neighborhood Health Station in Central Falls, the first of its kind in the nation, tentatively scheduled for sometime during the first weeks of October, Lavoie admitted that there is a mixture of excitement and anxiety, likening it to the “red zone” in football and the difficulty of achieving the last 10 yards needed to score.

When its doors open on the new facility, Blackstone Valley will be capable of providing roughly 90 percent of the health care needs for some 90 percent of the residents of Central Falls, in one location: primary care, urgent care, behavioral health, dental care, a pharmacy, physical therapy and occupational therapy, as well as imaging and lab facilities.

At a time of increasing disruption of health care delivery services, consolidation of hospital systems, ever-escalating medical costs and drug costs, the new Neighborhood Health Station in Central Falls offers an alternative vision of what health care can achieve when it is driven by the needs of the local community.

Here is the ConvergenceRI interview with Ray Lavoie, executive director of Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, talking about the promise of the future Neighborhood Health Station, amidst a constant din of construction.

ConvergenceRI: As you move toward completion of the building, wanting to get it done on time, but wanting to make sure that everything is done right, it must be both exciting and anxiety provoking.
It is like in football, approaching the end zone, the last 10-20 yards. It’s the red zone; it’s the most difficult.

From an anxiety standpoint, you can almost feel the sense of relief coming on.

ConvergenceRI: The anticipated date for opening is sometime in October? Is that correct?
Yes, toward the first part of October.

ConvergencERI: Can you talk about what services will be a part of the new Neighborhood Health Station?
We will have a pharmacy; we will have urgent care; we will have a lab and x-ray services, provided by others, as well as physical therapy and occupational therapy, also provided by others.

We will also have dental services, the first time that we’ve offered dental services in Central Falls.

And, of course, our Central Falls community health center will move in, bringing its primary care expertise to the building.

On the third floor, we will have our behavioral health providers, as well as room for expanding primary care in the future.

ConvergenceRI: Do you believe that the new facility will result in an expansion of demand by patients?
I really do. The new facility has been somewhat obscured by the old Notre Dame urgent care building in front of it. We really expect that once people realize it is here, it will be over-subscribed.

Especially because it is what the community needs, and it is what the city of Pawtucket and the city of Central Falls need, now that Memorial Hospital has closed.

ConvergenceRI: Given that you expect to be serving a larger percentage of Central Falls residents for their primary care and urgent care needs, how does that fit into your plans for population health management analytics?
Every patient that comes to us is entered into our electronic medical health records and our population health analytics system. We will be able to know much more about a larger percentage of folks in city of Central Falls and in the city of Pawtucket, and we’ll be able to help manage population health on a larger scale, rather than one patient at a time when they come in to see us.

ConvergenceRI: In regard to medical costs and health care costs, can you talk about how this will improve outcomes and lower costs, potentially?
It will lower total costs; it is not necessarily inexpensive to come to Blackstone Valley, but because we do such a good job with primary care, we tend to keep people out of the hospitals and out of the emergency room more than others do.

If you look at the total costs, this will be the lowest cost alternative.

ConvergenceRI: Once the Neighborhood Health Station is officially opened in October, do you expect that you will be having people nationally come tour the facility?
I would expect so. It’s a new concept; it’s Dr. Michael Fine’s vision of a Neighborhood Health Station, where 90 percent of the folks in the community can get 90 percent of their health care needs met. And, that is something new.

It will also sidestep the current structure, where everyone’s medical records are in different doctors offices and it is all siloed. This is a step in the right direction to get more of a handle on things.

ConvergenceRI: There has been a lot of talk following the decision by the Pawtucket Red Sox to move to Worcester, Mass., about the best way to invest in the future economic development efforts…
[interrupting] We can’t move to Worcester, by the way, just for the record.

ConvergenceRI: How can this new Neighborhood Health Station be seen as a form of economic development, keeping the money spent on health care within the local community? What are the economic development benefits?
Absolutely. The nation is starting to come to grips with the fact that health care is an economic driver. I think we’re going to be proving that. You can look at the number of construction jobs on this site alone. Not that they last forever.

But we’ll be creating about 80 new positions here to serve the population of Central Falls. It is definitely an economic stimulus. As you said, we’ll be keeping the health care dollars in the community. That’s going to be a net benefit.

ConvergenceRI: Are you planning to host a grand opening?
We will. We’re just trying to figure out the timing on that.

ConvergenceRI: Will you be happy to give a tour to Gov. Raimondo and CommerceRI Secretary Stefan Pryor?
Absolutely. They are interested in economic development, and this is a key development, especially in a distressed community like Central Falls.

ConvergenceRI: What is the take away, the message that you want to share about this new facility?
We are people who are concerned about our neighbors and the health of our neighbors and the health of our neighborhoods.

That’s what we are doing here. We see all people, regardless of ability to pay. There is no discrimination, based on age, sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, the whole gamut. We are a federally qualified community health center, and we are here to do good work for the people of Central Falls.

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