Four decades of community health
In honor of Conway's 250th, I sat down to read through the scrapbooks we have from the early days of the Children and Youth program, one of the two programs that merged to create White Mountain Community Health Center in 2001.
So much has changed since then! And some things are still the same.
When the Children and Youth Project formed in 1968, there weren't a lot of options for Mount Washington Valley residents who couldn't afford health care. In a 1981 newspaper article, Carroll Bergin, C&Y's first director, recalled that she found many children starting school who had never been to see a doctor since they were born and therefore had never been immunized against common infections. She also found that they were much more likely to suffer from anemia, malnutrition, and ear infections which, left untreated, impaired children's hearing and in the worst cases sometimes led to deafness or even death.
For decades, C&Y provided basic health care and programs to support children from low-income families. They focused on preventive treatment and education, as well as support for children and families facing difficult situations. There were many articles in the scrapbooks about how C&Y was helping children facing abuse and supporting teenage mothers. They connected needy families with Christmas gifts every year, ran dental clinics and parenting classes, and generally found ways to help struggling families keep their children healthy and happy. In the 80s articles we have, Bergin said that 3,000 Mount Washington Valley Children had been cared for by the C&Y Project.
Today, White Mountain Community Health Center has about 6,000 active patients of all ages, genders, and income levels, and provides over 12,000 visits a year. Children receive primary care from nurse practitioner Sharyn "Shawn" Rogers, dental care from hygienist Amy Stoddard and dentist Dr. Eric Hirschfeld, and a range of support services from nutrition to social work. They face some of the same issues Bergin did, from anemia and obesity to child abuse and substance abuse.
However, much has changed from the early days of the C&Y Program, partly due to the work it and other similar health programs have now done for decades. It would be shocking to hear of a child who died from complications from an ear infection in this area today, and almost all children are immunized. The Family Health Centre, which was founded in 1983 to provide family planning and prenatal care to women, helped reduce teen pregnancy in the area, and later merged with C&Y to become White Mountain Community Health Center.
The biggest change now, of course, is that many more patients are insured. Medicaid programs have expanded greatly and make it possible for a comprehensive program like the health center's to exist. The Affordable Care Act helped expand coverage even further.
Funding cuts and financial challenges are a constant throughout the health center's history and are looming large again today, but we will continue to find ways to survive and ensure that anyone in the Valley can access the health care they need.
Siena Kaplan. This article was published in the Conway Daily Sun's 250th Supplement on Saturday, October 24