Guest Op-ed: 50th Anniversary a Joy for Health Center Founders

By Dr. Gerald Hass

Since this is the 50th. Anniversary of the South End Community Health Center, I would like to say Happy Birthday and many more. But sadly, I can’t.

I can, however, say thank you to Divina and Jose, Chris Cato and Mel for their wonderful help, as well as Reverend Tim Crellin of St. Stephen’s Church for enabling us to hold this celebration.

In 1968, Father Dwyer allowed us to use the church hall to do camp physicals so that over 500 South End children could go to summer camp. Those children became our first patients. The Health Center opened its doors on June 9, 1969.

I am enormously grateful to Mel Scovell who was the master mind and strategic planner of the Health Center. He made it possible to start without grant funding. He was the mentor for Tristram Blake who guided us for next 30 years and we were recognized as a great Health Center for those years. Tristram always said he had the best job in the world

I am very proud that we made a difference in the lives of thousands of families in the South End and beyond. Tristram and I shared an office until 2003 and we were firm friends and colleagues. I trusted him absolutely and we joked that we never had an argument. He was voted the most outstanding Health Center Director in Massachusetts and sadly his successors did not measure up to him. The last two directors blamed the staff for their own inadequacies and the board of directors passively accepted it.

We had a wonderful staff, who stayed many years, and many of them are here today. They worked hard and they loved it and I loved them. As Physician in Chief for over 40 years, my priority was to make sure the staff was happy and that translated into their care for our patients. With the last two directors that was no longer the case. Many staff left and sadly long term staff were let go.

For many years I was asked about writing a book about the Health Center but because I was busy and happy seeing patients, I made excuses. As the years went by many people didn’t know about the    efforts we made in the early years. I decided that the “Story of the South End Community Health Center” needed to be told, so that the history wouldn’t be lost.

I interviewed a number of the early founders, board members and staff about their memories of the Health Center. My oldest was Mrs. Lois Cato aged 94 and my youngest was Jewel Cash also known as Pumpkin. Recording the interviews was heart warming and nostalgic. As I edited the stories, I realized how fortunate we were to have been there together during those great years. I would have loved to have interviewed many more people who worked and supported our efforts but it just wasn’t possible. I plan to make the book available when it’s printed.

The South End Community Health Center is one of the most important and satisfying parts of my life. Mel Scovell and I met in 1968 to develop the Health Center and I owe so much to him, to Divina, Migdalia, Roger, Jovita, Tony Molina, Father Waldron, the Cato family, Mocky, Pat and especially Inez our first nurse who took care of us all. There is not enough time to acknowledge everyone who contributed to our Health Center. I hope the book will help.

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