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Warren “Deep in the Fight” for resources

Lowell Community Health Center
Senator calls facility an ‘even more extraordinary place today’

by Alana Melanson

Lowell » Lowell Community Health Center was the first community health center U. S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren had visited shortly after joining the Senate in 2013.

At that point, the then- new facility had only been open for a few months in one portion of its Jackson Street building — and expansion was only “ a distant dream” — but Warren still regarded it as “ a remarkable opportunity for me to see the inner workings of community health at its best.”

When she came back Tuesday for another tour and to learn about how the health center responded to COVID19, Warren was delighted to see how much LCHC had expanded both in size and mission.

alana melanson / lowell sun

U.S.  elizabeth warren shakes hands with lowell Community Health Center
vaccine program nurse manager Zeina el Jenaynati while massachusetts
national Guard members sgt. Katrina Diorio and Capt. ann marie leifer,
middle rear, andstate Rep. Vanna Howard, left,
LCHC Ceo susan west levine, right,
look on during warren’s visit Tuesday.

“ I was knocked out the first time by how beautiful the space is, how passionate the people are and how everyone that walks in the door is treated with respect,” Warren said. “ I love coming back and seeing that the space is nearly doubled, the outreach is much larger and that the qualities that made this an extraordinary place years ago have made it an even more extraordinary place today.”

She said she was excited to “ see how many more ideas are taking root and beginning to bloom.”

Warren said she felt it was important to come and thank the health center for its efforts during the pandemic and to “ learn about the very best practices in the nation, and then take them back” to Washington, D.C. to be a more effective partner in the nation’s capital.

“ I’m deep in the fight to get more resources for all of our community health centers,” Warren said. “ Lowell Community Health Center helps give me the ammunition I need in that fight. I can not only talk about numbers when I go back to Washington, I can tell the on- the- ground stories.”

Warren’s tour of the facility included stops at the COVID vaccination center run with the assistance of Massachusetts National Guard members, the health center’s 50th anniversary timeline wall, the vision and dental care departments and a meet- andgreet with LCHC’s neighbors at the International Institute of New England- Lowell.

At a roundtable discussion following the tour, health center CEO Susan West Levine said the health center was “on the frontlines of the pandemic in more ways than one,” pointing to both the fight against the coronavirus itself and racism.

She said she was proud of her board of directors for taking an early stand in adopting a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis a year ago.

Chair Bruce Robinson said the health center’s mission is to take care of the populations it serves, and that includes understanding the inequities people face and how those social determinants impact their health, as well as delivering care in a culturally competent way.

Of the 14,000 vaccines administered at the health center, 70% have gone to minorities and people of color, Levine said. However, this represents only about a third of the total population the health center serves, she said, so more work is being done to reach those who have not been vaccinated.

Health Promotion and Education Director Mercy Anampiu discussed LCHC’s collaboration with the Greater Lowell Health Alliance, Lowell General Hospital and organizations across the city to reach the most vulnerable. Now that the mass vaccination sites are closed, the focus has turned to mobile clinics and creating a community calendar that shows where vaccines are available, she said.

Chief Policy and Equity Officer Sheila Och discussed LCHC’s vaccine equity report, efforts around data transparency and using data to tailor health interventions to those most adversely impacted by the pandemic.

In addition to targeting pandemic response efforts with an equity lens, Och said LCHC is also implementing different systems and technologies across the organization to examine chronic conditions by race and ethnicity and reengage community members who lost care due to the pandemic. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kumble Rajesh said LCHC remains just as passionate about serving the community as it was during Warren’s first visit.

“ I know that yours is a very powerful voice that can support all of us in the work that we do,” he said. “ But if you ever need more impassioned voices, you’ve come to the right place.”

Warren also visited the Mill City Grows mobile market outside the health center, where she talked with staff and customers before purchasing strawberries and lettuce.

Mill City Grows Executive Director Jessica Wilson explained how the nonprofit is different from other farming organizations, growing over 60 different vegetables tailored to the various cultures represented in Lowell, and last year donated over 5,000 pounds of food to the Merrimack Valley Food Bank. Wilson also discussed Mill City Grows’ community gardens, including those at Lowell schools, which Mayor John Leahy said is a good learning experience for the students.

Warren said she thought the venture was “ fantastic” — especially in its partnership to set up outside LCHC and promote healthy eating as a critical component of supporting a healthier community.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren checks out the produce at the Mill city Grows mobile market stationed outside Lowell community health center Tuesday while talking with Mill city Grows director of Programs Ali Jacobs, right.