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President and CEO, Merrill Thomas

Op-ed by Merrill Thomas published in Providence Journal

On February 25, 2021, Merrill Thomas, President and CEO of Providence Community Health Centers, was featured on the opinion page of the Providence Journal with a submission entitled "Choosing to expand during the pandemic." It details how PCHC chose to grow over the past two years to serve the community despite the challenges posed by the COVID pandemic.

You can read the text of the op-ed below:

Choosing to expand during the Pandemic

When Maria Silva retired from Providence Community Health Centers (PCHC) at the end of 2021, she took with her 52 years of experience as a health aide. Maria joined our organization in 1969, four years after community health centers were founded as a national concept and just one year after we opened our doors in Providence. When she walked into our Fox Point health center as a teenager looking for an after-school job, Maria had no way of knowing we would grow into the state’s biggest health center, providing care for more than 60,000 people at eight health centers, two schools, and Crossroads Rhode Island.

Like every other health care provider, we have experienced wave after wave of change over the last two years. From opening the state’s first walk-up and drive through COVID testing site to hosting more than 60 community vaccine clinics over the last six months, PCHC has been on the front lines of the state’s response to the COVID pandemic. Thanks to our dedicated employees, we kept our doors open and were able to provide care to people in need.

As an organization, we were faced with some difficult decisions. Two years ago, plans were in place to start construction of a new health center in the Olneyville section of Providence, a neighborhood with some of the worst health outcomes and indicators in the state. We were also planning to expand an existing health center in the Smith Hill area and open a dedicated clinic for people who have multiple chronic and behavioral conditions.

The need in the community for additional services was real. The question arose as to whether we could pursue such an undertaking during an unprecedented and ever-evolving health crisis. For our Board, leadership team, and me, the bigger question was: how could we not?

Despite the uncertainty, we chose to grow to meet the need.

On February 28th, we will hold a ribbon-cutting for a new 26,600 square-foot state-of-the-art health center called PCHC Atwood in the Olneyville section of Providence. This new site will complement our existing Olneyville health center and allow us to care for 14,000 new patients. PCHC Atwood will offer Adult Medicine, Family Medicine, Ob/Gyn, Pediatrics, Behavioral Health, Express Care, and Lab Services. It is a $15 million investment in the community that is creating 60 fair-wage jobs. The same month, we will complete renovations to our Capitol Hill health center, allowing 4,000 more people to access high-quality care in. Our clinic focused on patients with multiple chronic and behavioral health conditions -- called PCHC Connect at Eddy Street -- will also open later this year.

This type of growth might have been unthinkable to some during this escalating health crisis. For us, it is the next step in our 54-year commitment to building a healthier Rhode Island. It is not an easy task, but it is a critical one when it comes to ensuring our community can grow and thrive. Just ask Maria Silva -- who cared for patients and then their children and grandchildren for more than a half-century -- the difference PCHC can make one person at a time.

CEO Providence 2

 

 

 

New Dentists Join PCHC Team

New Dentists Join PCHC Team

Providence Community Health Centers is pleased to welcome three dentists to our team: Dr. Sanika Shah, and Dr. Asif Rangoonwala, and Dr. Steven Lowe.

Dr. Lowe received his Doctorate of Dental Surgery from the University of Maryland. Prior to his most recent position as Dental Program Manager for the Oneida Indian Nation in Oneida, NY, he worked as an associate dentist at Bright Now Dental in VA, Spector Family Dental in MD, and Family First Health, a federally qualified health center in PA.

Prior to joining PCHC, Dr. Shah worked as an associate dentist at Dr. Dental in Billerica, MA, and Mother Teresa Memorial Charitable Dental Hospital in India. She received her Doctorate of Dental Surgery from the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine. She received her Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree from University of KLE VK Institute of Dental Sciences.

Dr. Rangoonwala received his degree as a Doctor of Dental Medicine from Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Medicine. He received a Master of Dental Surgery in Prosthodontics from SDM College of Dental Services in India. He also received a Bachelor of Dental Surgery from Nair Hospital Dental College in India. Dr. Rangoonwala most recently worked as an associate dentist at Dental Dreams, LLC, in Lawrence, MA.

Learn more about our dental services here: https://www.providencechc.org/services/dental-services

 

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Jenna Severance

Jenna Severance, RN, recognized with Daisy Award for Extraordinary Nurses

Jenna Severance, RN, who has been at our Capitol Hill health center since joining Providence Community Health Centers in 2019, is the latest winner of the Daisy Award for Extraordinary Nurses. Jenna was recognized at a surprise ceremony on January 25th. The Daisy Award is a national program started by a family that wanted to recognize the great nursing care their loved one received. Jenna started at PCHC in Family Medicine and transitioned to Pediatrics -- what she calls her “real love and passion” -- in October 2020.

“My favorite part of nursing at PCHC is the connections I make with patients and their parents and families,” said Jenna. “I especially love working in pediatrics because I get to watch my patients grow and go through milestones. It’s really rewarding working with such a diverse community. I also feel very lucky to have an amazing group of co-workers around me. They have become a part of my family and are what get me through some of the harder days.” 

 

DAISY Award recipients are registered nurses who exemplify the following nursing values: extraordinary compassion, courage, and integrity. These individuals consistently demonstrate excellence in the delivery of patient care and promotion of their professional nursing practice. As the winner, Jenna received a beautifully handcrafted statue called “The Healer’s Touch” which symbolizes the relationship between nurses, patients, and families, a framed certificate, and a check.

Dr. Beth Toolan, physician site lead at Capitol Hill and Chairperson of the Department of Pediatrics, praised Jenna’s patience, kindness, and skills as nurse. “No matter how many patients are waiting for her for vaccines, on the phone, and in the waiting room, she routinely talks to them kindly and patiently,” said Dr. Toolan. “I have never seen her be short with a patient, despite working alone in two clinics for the past month and a half. She engages with pediatric patients in a way that makes them comfortable and alleviates their fears.”

Jenna is pictured here in the center with (from left to right) Dr. Beth Toolan, President & CEO Merrill Thomas, Capitol Hill health center director Patricia Terceira, and Dr. Nadine Hewamudalige, Medical Director. 

 

Providence Jenna

 

 

Maria Silva

Maria Silva retiring after 52 years of service; started with PCHC as a teenager

1972 PCHC irene viera maria silva jack fittro
Maria is pictured in the middle of this 1972 photo with Irene Viera and Jack Fittro.

Maria Silva started work as a health aide in 1969, the year after Providence Community Health Centers opened its doors. PCHC’s Fox Point health center was located just blocks from Maria’s home. She was a 16 year old student looking for an after school job. Maria walked in and applied, not realizing that she would spend more than 50 years with the same organization, caring for patients and then their children and grandchildren.

“It’s the only job I’ve had my whole life,” says Maria, who will be retiring at the end of this year after 52 years with PCHC.

At Fox Point, she was trained on the job. It was a small team – one doctor, one nurse, and one health center assistant. Maria’s family moved to Rhode Island from Portugal just three years earlier so she became the translator for patients who spoke Portuguese. (She later learned to speak Creole and some Spanish.) The Fox Point center was open from 1 p.m.-9 p.m. weekdays and Maria worked after school. “I was taught to do everything … work the front desk, register patients, draw blood,” she recalls.

Maria eventually married and her two children both became PCHC patients. “We prided ourselves on the health care we delivered so why would I bring them to a private doctor?” she asks.

Maria when an obstetrics room at Chafee was named in her honor on the occasion
Maria is pictured in 2019 when an obstetrics room at Chafee was named
in her honor on the occasion of her 50th anniversary of service with PCHC.

As more patients came to Fox Point, the need for space grew. The center moved to a new location off Allens Avenue and it was here at Chafee Health Center that Maria worked for the rest of her career. Although she is retiring, Maria will stay connected to the center and continue to work with the community. She will also be spending time with her first grandchild, born in October of this year. As she reflects back on the thousands of patients she has cared for, Maria says, “What has been most satisfying is helping patients from different walks of life.”

Community Health Advocates

Community Health Advocates working to help patients address issues of homelessness

chas team photoThe care provided to our patients extends well beyond the walls of our health centers and clinical sites. Recognizing the toll that social determinants of health take on a person’s overall well-being, our team is dedicated to tackling root causes like homelessness or the lack of reliable housing. PCHC has team members working actively to address this issue that can create both physical and mental health issues for patients.

Among the ways our Community Health Advocates (CHAs) address homelessness is through our Permanent Supportive Housing program. The goal of the program, a partnership between PCHC, ONE Neighborhood Builders, and Rhode Island Housing, is to support patients in their transition from homelessness, to ensure they stay housed and engaged with their primary care team. CHAs like Dennis Hermida-Gonzalez assist with lease signings, utilities setup, finding furniture, checking in on rent payments, applying for SSI and SNAP, and finding employment and transportation. Currently, they are 12 patients enrolled in the program, three of whom have families and two of which are waiting to move in.

Crossroads Rhode Island, which is home to one of our health clinics, is dedicated to addressing homelessness. As the PCHC Nurse Case Manager assigned to Crossroads, Jasmine Rodriguez must stay connected to individuals who often forgo needed medical care because they are focused on finding a place to live. One recent patient brought a host of medical issues including an untreated mass on their spleen and a history of trauma and drug usage. Jasmine worked to gain the patient’s trust and then directed him to appointments with the oncologist and several specialists. Following each appointment, Jasmine met with the patient to summarize and simplify the treatment plan. The patient is now in a sober house and regularly meets with his medical team. The patient has completed a Hep C treatment program, gained part-time employment, and even purchased a car. With Jasmine’s assistance, the patient is enrolled in SSDI and was recently approved for housing. While Jasmine is still there to help, the patient needs less case management help as he takes control of his life. 

PCHC works with RentReliefRI, a program of RI Housing that provides rental and utility assistance, to address homelessness. Our CHAs assist patients in filling out applications and gathering documentation while educating landlords about the program. Earlier this year, Crystal Rosario, CHA, received a provider referral for a three year old child who is a patient at PCHC. After Crystal met with the patient and her mother, she realized the family was falling behind on their rent. With Crystal’s help over the period of several months, the mother received $9,000 in rental relief which has helped stabilize her housing situation. Another way we assist patients with their legal issues related to housing is through our collaboration with the Rhode Island Center for Justice and Rhode Island Legal Services. This partnership helps prevent eviction while addressing poor housing quality, discrimination, and other issues.

Thank you to all our team members who work to address the issue of homelessness and housing insecurity.

Carl Brown

Carl Brown elected Chairman of the Board of Directors

Carl BrownCarl Brown has been elected Chairman of the Providence Community Health Centers’ Board of Directors. He brings more than 20 years of business management and Information Technology experience to this leadership role. Brown joined the Board in 2018 and most recently served as Vice President. He is an IT Security Manager for the Rhode Island Lottery, a state agency that oversees all aspects of lottery operations and gaming in the State. Prior to this position, he was with the YMCA of Greater Providence for more than a decade, holding positions of increasing responsibility including Chief Operating Officer. Brown received his BS in Business Administration from Providence College.

Carl succeeds immediate past Chairperson Elena Nicolella, who is leaving our board to join the Rhode Island Health Center Association as President & CEO.

I am excited to serve as Board President and Chairman for the state’s largest health center network,” said Brown. “Our Board is proud to provide guidance and oversight as Providence Community Health Centers grows and innovates to meet the needs of more than 60,000 patients annually.

Providence Community Health Centers is also pleased to announce the recent addition of two new board members: Joseph Nagle, former President and CEO at Delta Dental of Rhode Island, and Richard Hemphill, a community leader who has served as President of the Silver Lake/Olneyville Little League for more than a decade.

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