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Sep 10

HEALTHFIRST BREATHING NEW LIFE INTO FORMER QUARRY STREET PLANT

The Herald News, Friday, September 10, 2010 – Page A1

 

Fall River – HealthFirst Family Care Center announced Thursday it has purchased the former Quaker Fabric Plant M, 387 quarry St., for $1.5 million.

 

It will move into the new building, less than a quarter of a mile form its current 102 County St. location in December 2011 after extensive renovations.

 

HealthFirst will increase its space from 10,000 to 40,000 square feet and plans to expand its patient base and services. The building measures 76,000 square feet. Some of the space not being used by Healthfirst will be rented out to tenants offering complementary health care services.

 

It was a jubilant day for HealthFirst, a community health care clinic that sees patients regardless of whether they have insurance or the ability to pay.

 

“HealthFirst will be celebrating its 40th anniversary next year,” said HealthFirst CEO Julie Almond. “I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.

 

The new wide-open space will be designed to HealthFirst specifications. It will hire, at minimum, 30 full-time staffers when the doors open next year. It will also provide some 50 construction jobs.

 

“The new facility will allow us to expand our current services by doubling our medical exam rooms from 13 to 26 and adding five dental operatories for a total of nine in our new facility,” Almond said.

 

HealthFirst employees have been working in cramped quarters for years, sometimes seeing patients in tiny rooms that were once closets. It changed its hours to accommodate more patients, staying open until 8 p.m. and opening on weekends. It added a trailer at the end of the building some years ago and converted office space into exam rooms.

 

“We thought this day would never come, and it has, and we’re very proud,” said Gene Alves, president of the board of directors.

 

Almond said Alves has volunteered hundreds of hours to see the purchase of the new building come to fruition.

 

The process began in December 2009, when HealthFirst was awarded an $11.5 million grant as part of the Facility Investment Program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The federal funds could be used only for renovation, leaving HealthFirst to scramble for the $1.5 million it needed to purchase the building it had been eying for years.

 

It first had a deadline of March 31, which was extended three times. It’s almost current deadline for purchasing the building was Aug. 31, the day it closed on the property.

 

Almond said HealthFirst paid $263,000 of its own money set aside for years to purchase a new property. Another $995,000 was financed through BankFive, and $300,000 was financed with a Jobs for Fall River loan from the Fall River Office of Economic Development.

 

“The purchase of this property is not just a great project for HealthFirst, but a great project for the city of Fall River,” said Mayor Will Flanagan. “It’s clear to me that you need to grow.”

 

Flanagan said the project will not only provide jobs, but will offer a greater number of patients comfort and treatment of their ailments and diseases. The city of Fall River, he said, has a large percentage of people who suffer from heart and lung diseases, and diabetes.

 

“To the staff of HealthFirst, you really do God’s work,” Flanagan said.

 

Services offered under HealthFirst’s new roof will be a pharmacy run by Tom Cory of Standard Pharmacy, advanced services like physical and speech therapy, X-ray, mammography, pain management and a laboratory. Partners include St. Anne’s Hospital, National Physical Therapy, and Southcoast Hospitals Group, which runs Charlton Memorial Hospital. The Fall River WIC program, already a part of HealthFirst, will move to the new building. HealthFirst offers medical and dental services and sees some 7,600 patients each year.

 

“HealthFirst plays a vital role in our community and we are proud to stand with them as a partner,” said Linda Bodenmann, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Southcoast Hospitals Group.

 

Craig Jeseiolowski, president of St. Anne’s Hospital, said the new location will help HealthFirst continue to follow its mission, “with a special focus on those who are most vulnerable or at risk.

 

Thomas Lyons, president and CEO of BankFive offered congratulations to everyone who took part in the purchase.

 

“It’s a community effort across the board,” Lyons said. “I can’t recall when so many people came together so fact.”

 

To learn more about HealthFirst, call 508-679-9376 or visit www.healthfirstfr.org.