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One Prescription for Healthier Brownfield Communities – A Community Clinic Please!

2012 October 4

By Ann Carroll

The EPA brownfields program started in the mid-1990s, but as the program evolved over the last decade, we learned that the abandoned gas station, mine site or vacant scrap yard may be only one of the many issues facing communities.  In fact, many brownfield communities are also medically underserved areas. This U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) designation means that there aren’t enough doctors, dentists, mental health or other health professionals to provide needed services.  This is especially problematic because many of these communities may be affected by legacy pollution that was left behind when plants closed down. Residents in these communities may lack vital services like vaccinations or preventive care that is important to disease management for diabetes, asthma or other chronic conditions and care needs.

Opening of the Providence Community Health Centers

For one community, this reality changed with a new clinic opening on a former brownfield.  On July 16, I joined some of the EPA New England brownfields program team members in Providence, RI, along with community members, investors, and elected officials to celebrate the opening of the Providence Community Health Centers (PCHC).  PCHC is now the largest Rhode Island healthcare provider for women and children, serving one in four Providence residents. This new clinic integrates care for children and adults with behavioral health, a Women, Infants and Children’s (WIC) nutrition program, and provides services to address asthma, diabetes, podiatry and dermatology, all under one roof.

There will also be a pharmacy opening next door, which will make filling prescriptions easy. The health center is located on the Federated Lithography Site, a former historic mill, which dates back to the 1880s. Brownfield grants totaling $600,000 funded the removal of lead paint and asbestos from around the 4.5 acre site and attracted an additional $40 million for construction and redevelopment.  Historic preservation and select demolition also allowed for the creation of a historic hybrid health care clinic that meets LEED ‘green building’ certification. Renovation of the remaining mill buildings will create doctors offices for Lifespan, an integrated health provider linked to Brown University.

The project also created 125 seasonal jobs during the two years of work. Nearly 25% of demolition and construction dollars supported local minority/women business enterprises and labor.  In a neighborhood where over 70% of children and 35% of families live below the poverty line, these jobs were especially important!

This seems like a prescription many brownfield communities would like filled.  Let’s learn from this Providence community and help Providence and other rural and urban communities reverse environmental pollution legacies to create healing today and a healthier tomorrow.  You can read more about this story in this New York Times article. Also, visit this website to see if you live in a medically underserved area, and click here to find out more about programs that HHS offers to medically underserved areas.

About the author: Ann Carroll has a science and public health background and has worked on environmental health issues in the US and internationally for close to 30 years and with the EPA’s Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization for the last ten years.  She helps communities assess and clean brownfields and plan for their safe reuse.  Ann is working on a doctorate in environmental health as a  Fellow at Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for a Livable Future.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. Robert Murphy permalink
    October 4, 2012

    Today’s “environmental justice movement” can trace many of its roots to the early initiatives for public health. A hundred years ago, the public health problems in industrial centers like Pittsburgh and in mining towns in the West were almost overwhelming. Low-income families worried about waterborne diseases, tuberculosis, basic safety concerns, etc. Read about the Lawrence, Massachusetts, textile strike in 1912 – and other moments in American history – for more information. This was the famous “bread and roses” strike.

    Today’s problems? As the climate change problem develops, droughts, heat waves, massive power failures, and extreme weather events become more common. The summers of 2010, 2011, and 2012 have produced “environmental justice” crisis moments for millions of Americans. Hospitalizations and mortality for vulnerable groups – among the elderly and the very young, and for some occupational groups – increase during heat waves. Heat exhaustion, dehydration, and related problems, are public health concerns seen in community clinics.

    We now have West Nile disease virus detected in Massachusetts and our Lyme disease season has been extended. And there are some other climate-related changes that should be mentioned… The Centers for Disease Control can provide you with more information…. Good news? Some of the environmental justice groups in Massachusetts are starting to respond to these problems. We had some presentations at New England’s Environmental Justice Summit in Worcester in June. Information was presented at the Labor Day gathering in Lawrence.

    Electricity is a big concern. Families need electricity for refrigerators, home medical equipment, cooking and lighting, etc. However, many energy assistance programs for low-income people only function during the cold weather.
    In Massachusetts, we’ve worked with hospitals, community food pantries, etc.,
    to help get “power to the people” in every season. (An air conditioner doesn’t do much good if a family can’t afford to pay for the electricity that’s needed.)

    There are many state and national reports that show the disparities in health. Asthma can be found in every city and town, but, for some reason, it’s frequently identified with children in low-income urban areas. Study the disparities.

    As Obamacare develops, there should be new opportunities to work for prevention and consumer health education. Advocates for environmental justice and for occupational health and safety – the two are very close – should be involved with
    national health care planning and the development of public health services.

  2. Master Melvin M. Lusterio permalink
    October 5, 2012

    The Good Force be with you!

    Yes, you’re right, Ann! We need community clinics for remote areas like this. Let the gov’t take action on this matter as soon as possible.

    Live forever and prosper!

  3. Maria permalink
    October 7, 2012

    Great Blog….. All communities more access to affordable health care and facilities. I’m glad to see that their is an emphasis on the communities that need them the most.

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