City Councilors Ed Flynn (South Boston, South End, Chinatown, downtown) and Erin Murphy (at large) yesterday sounded an alarm about a for-profit company's plans to open an urgent-care clinic less than a block away from the South Boston Community Health Center on West Broadway, warning that the new clinic could skim patients with disposable income away, threatening the health center's long-term viability and its commitment to caring for people who couldn't otherwise afford to see a doctor.
And as South Boston goes, so could other non-profit health centers across the city, they warned. "If this could happen here it could happen anywhere," Murphy said.
Although the councilors seemed shocked by the sudden incursion of a for-profit clinic in Boston, in fact, the concerns have been making inroads in the city ever since Tom Menino, who fought to keep them out, left office. Carbon Health, for example, now runs clinics both downtown and in West Roxbury.
Flynn said that unlike neighborhood health centers, the for-profits don't have to take people on MassHealth or with no way to pay for care. Should they muscle out the neighborhood centers, by reducing their income from patients with private insurance, the result would be "a devastating impact" on poor people, seniors and people with disabilities, he said.
He called the West Broadway proposal by American Family Care particularly odious given its location near the neighborhood center. "This is not a health-care desert, and there is no community need here," he said.
City Councilor Liz Breadon (Allston/Brighton) added that the end of neighborhood health centers could spark a crisis at local emergency rooms, where people without private insurance already sometimes go for care. If anything, he said, the city and hospitals should be looking at ways to treat patients with problems that don't require ER-level care in the community - for example, at neighborhood health centers.
"Community health centers are under stress and need more investment," she said.
Council President Ruthzee Louijeune sent the matter to the council's committee on public health, homelessness and recovery for a hearing.
Watch the discussion: