A legacy of perseverance lives on at New Bedford Community Health

Forty five years ago, a group of New Bedford citizens coalesced around a shared vision to create a community health care facility where every person would receive quality care, regardless of income, insurance or their ability to pay. Their vision took root, bolstered by early investment from the Coastline Council on Aging. In 1981, what is now known as New Bedford Community Health Center opened its doors with just three employees. In the years since, New Bedford Community Health has been designated a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) and become a cornerstone of its small community located near the southern coast of Massachusetts. And their commitment to their patients and equitable access to healthcare remains stronger than ever.

Often at the forefront of increasing access to critical health services and closing healthcare disparities, FQHCs have historically provided care for medically-underserved communities like New Bedford’s, which serves 5,400 patients across five departments — women’s health, adult medicine, infectious disease, pediatrics, and urgent care. Since joining forces with Upstream, the center’s offerings now include patient-centered reproductive care, an addition that’s significant for this patient base: nearly half of all pregnancies in Massachusetts are unintended. In 2016, nearly 400,000 women in the state were in need of publicly-funded family planning. As a result, organizations like New Bedford Community Health serve the contraceptive care needs of at least 1 in 4 women living in this area.

Upstream’s initiative with New Bedford Community Health actually began in early 2021. According to Upstream’s Practice Transformation Lead Kaitlyn Tabone, NBCH remained committed to the goals of our partnership even when they were in the throes of the pandemic,” she says. Even with a brief pause, the program never lost momentum, thanks in large part to New Bedford’s stellar team, whose efforts, resilience and dedication mirrored those of the Center’s founders 45 years before. “We were able to pick back up and successfully move the partnership through implementation. I’m particularly proud of how they were able to mobilize the entire staff around Upstream’s training efforts. They trained a total of 123 staff which is no small feat and took a huge level of commitment!”

Since then, Upstream and New Bedford Community Health have improved everything from precepting to workflow efforts and reached multiple contraceptive care milestones necessary for expanding access to contraceptive services, including:

  • Training all support NBCH staff and providers
  • Training a core group of NBCH coaches to support their peers’ development of patient-centered contraceptive education skills
  • Creating a contraceptive-care stocking plan for all departments

Post-training, patients, too, have noticed the staff’s investment in learning. In an Upstream survey, NBCH patients reported an increase in both provider trust around contraceptive care and in “never feeling pressured by health center staff to use or continue a birth control method.”

“We want to provide our patients the services and support they need to feel empowered to take charge of their lives. That’s why we were drawn to the mission and work of Upstream, and subsequently enrolled our entire staff in their training. Screening for pregnancy intentions was not something we historically asked outside of the Women’s Health department,” explains Cheryl Bartlett, NBCH’s CEO. “In just a few months of partnering with Upstream, we saw a tremendous increase in the adoption of a reproductive health screening across all departments.” Previous to this, NBCH had opted against focusing patient-centered contraceptive care in its Urgent Care department. However, with the success of the program elsewhere, Upstream’s contraceptive counseling is now happening in this department as well.

“Upstream’s partnership with New Bedford Community Health was special,” says Tabone. “The MA and RN coaches were the unsung heroes of this partnership—I’m proud of how committed they were in both training and coaching efforts.”

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