If you’re looking for symbolism — or some irony — in the fact that that the new development to be known as the Greenfield Center for Wellness will be located at the former site of a Sears Roebuck, well, there’s plenty of both.
Indeed, in 1929, when this one opened, Sears was the place where you could go to find almost anything — from a Lady Kenmore washer to a fly rod; from a new pair of sneakers to a tractor; from a monkey wrench to a new battery for your Packard. It was one-stop shopping personified, and the new wellness center, a partnership between the Center for Human Development (CHD) and the Community Health Center of Franklin County, will have that same quality.
But, and this is a big but, the Sears sign over the front of 102 Main St. has been gone for a long time now — so long that no one who spoke to BusinessWest about the new wellness center could put a date on it. The best anyone could do was a guess: “in the early ’70s — I think.”
It’s long gone because shopping habits have certainly changed — going to Sears (for almost anything) is no longer how it’s done. And in most all respects, the new wellness center is being created because the way people are receiving health and wellness services is also changing, and this location represents the future, not the past — even if those involved have secured a grant to restore the original Sears storefront.
Like we said, symbolism and irony, and lots of it.
Simply put, the new wellness center, a $6 million project, has, as its foundation, the integrated-care concept, said Jim Goodwin, executive director of CHD, noting that it will bring a host of services, including primary care, dental, and counseling for emotional wellness under one large roof.
“Providers can deliver complementary services that treat the whole person,” said Goodwin, noting that this is an important consideration in a region that has both a host of healthcare issues and a poor public transportation system.
And it also represents a relatively new model in the delivery of health and wellness services, he went on, adding that progressive states such as New York, Oregon, and others have seen the creation of similar integrated-care facilities, and the facility in Greenfield is a reflection of this movement, if it can be called that.
Meanwhile, the center, slated to open its doors early next year, also represents a somewhat unique case of collaboration between nonprofits working to improve the overall health of the communities they serve through that integrated model of care, said Ed Sayer, chief executive officer of the Community Health Center of Franklin County.
“You’ll find a single corporate entity that has primary health, behavioral health, and sometimes dental,” he explained. “But it’s rare to find this degree of partnership where two different corporate entities come together under one roof.
“CHD and the health center have really worked together almost as one organization,” he went on. “This facility is very exciting and quite unique.”
And, in yet another parallel to the Sears store — at least in its heyday — the Greenfield Center for Wellness will be an economic catalyst, a magnet that will draw people to a changing and re-emerging downtown Greenfield.
Indeed, between 80 and 100 people will work at the center, and at least another 100 are expected to visit it on a daily basis, said Sayer, adding that this critical mass of potential consumers will help existing business ventures downtown and probably spur new ones.
“We really want to be part of the redevelopment of downtown Greenfield,” he told BusinessWest, “and spearhead some of the economic recovery of the downtown area.”
For this issue and its focus on Franklin County, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the wellness center and how it is expected to help change the landscape in that rural region — in many different ways.
When asked how the center came to be, Goodwin told BusinessWest it was the product of a recognized need and a unique, if challenge-laden, opportunity to meet it in a forward-thinking manner.
Talks began roughly three years ago, he noted, adding that they were prompted by changes brought about by healthcare reform, a sharpened focus on population health, and much greater emphasis on recognizing — and addressing — what are known as the social determinants of health.
That list includes everything from housing, or a lack thereof, to transportation, of a lack thereof, to unemployment and poverty and the many ways they impact one’s ability to address their health and well-being.
“Medical costs were rising, and not just because the cost of medical care was going up, but also because people were showing up in emergency rooms, being hospitalized, and becoming in need of services for a variety of reasons that included high levels of anxiety, depression, and disorganized living,” Goodwin explained.
These forces, if you will, coincide with what are known as ‘1115 waivers.’ As Goodwin explained, the Massachusetts 1115 Demonstration provides federal authority for the state to expand eligibility to individuals who are not otherwise eligible for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), offer services that are not typically covered by Medicaid, and use innovative service-delivery systems that improve care, increase efficiency, and reduce costs.
An integrated-care facility in Greenfield would accomplish all of the above, he went on, adding that CHD, which provides a number of behavioral-health services in Franklin County through its Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative, sought out a partner to create such a center.
It found one in the Community Health Center of Franklin County, a 20-year-old nonprofit founded with the mission of providing excellent medical care to all residents of Franklin County, regardless of insurance status or income. It currently has three locations, one in Orange providing medical and dental services, another in Turners Falls offering dental services, and a third in Greenfield offering medical services.
Initial talks gathered momentum, said Goodwin, adding that the discussions focused on creating what would be a new model, in many ways, for improving the overall health of the community.
Sayer agreed, noting that the two nonprofits came to the realization that they could more effectively meet their respective missions if they came together at one location.
“We’re all really trying to create the health and wellness center of the future,” he said of the joint venture. “What is healthcare going to look like in five or 10 years? That’s the question that’s driving us, and we’re trying to make the experience as seamless as possible. It’s not just having everything in one place; it’s being taken seriously as a whole person in terms of your healthcare needs. I think that’s a very exciting thing.”
With a collective vision for an integrated health center taking shape, a search was commenced for a suitable location. A number of options were considered, and eventually the parties focused on the old Sears building, which had several benefits, including adequate space and parking and a convenient location in the center of Greenfield, just a block or so down from a famous department store still doing business — Wilson’s.
However, the site, in recent years home to everything from an antiques shop to the Franklin County District Attorney’s office, also needed a lot of work.
“The building was not in great shape — the second floor was; the DA had renovated it, but the rest of it was in general disrepair,” said Goodwin. “The parking lot was a mess, and everything needed to be upgraded; it didn’t have the capacity for the kind of IT needs that the health center would have.”
On top of all that, there was oil that had to pulled out of the ground, remnants from the automotive center that Sears operated at the site.
But the leaders of both nonprofits saw past those problems and kept their focus on the vast potential of an integrated health center at that address and on what it would mean for the region.
“The type of facility we’ll have here is just way ahead of anything that exists in this region,” said Goodwin. “In many ways, it represents the future of how healthcare services will be delivered.”
What’s in Store
Putting the center and its importance to the region — on many different levels — in perspective, Sayer said the facility is “not just a mental-health clinic, and not just a doctor’s office — it’s something that’s truly greater than the sum of its parts.”
That’s saying something, because there are quite a few parts to this venture.
The same could be said of the Sears that operated at 102 Main St. for decades, of course, which brings yet another layer of symbolism and irony to the this project and its historic home.
You could say something remarkable is in store for Greenfield and the surrounding area — in all kinds of ways.
George O’Brien can be reached at email@example.com