Officials celebrate new Community Health Center location in Orange

  • Allison van der Velden, CEO of the Community Health Center of Franklin County, center, speaks Thursday at a groundbreaking ceremony for the center’s new location at the Aubuchon Plaza in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The new location of the Community Health Center of Franklin County in the Aubuchon Plaza in Orange, which is expected to open in February following renovations. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • State Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, speaks Thursday at a groundbreaking ceremony for the new location of the Community Health Center of Franklin County in the Aubuchon Plaza in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Allison van der Velden, CEO of the Community Health Center of Franklin County, center, speaks Thursday at a groundbreaking ceremony for the center’s new location at the Aubuchon Plaza in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A symbolic groundbreaking ceremony was held Thursday at the new location of the Community Health Center of Franklin County at the Aubuchon Plaza in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/27/2020 4:33:54 PM

ORANGE — Joined by representation from North Quabbin’s state delegation, the Community Health Center of Franklin County held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new, larger location Thursday morning.

The 501(c)(3) nonprofit closed on a property at 119 New Athol Road in the lot known as the Aubuchon Plaza on Aug. 10, and the new health center is expected to open there in February.

Dr. Allison van der Velden, named the health center’s CEO a few weeks ago, started the ceremony, saying that health care is not about telling people how to live their lives, but rather to improve the quality of those lives.

“It’s not about imposing a judgment or telling you how to live your life or nagging about exercising. We just want to give folks the tools that they need … and the Community Health Center is a partner in that for the entire community,” she said on a cool, cloudy morning.

State Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, said she came to express her enthusiasm as well as the support of her Franklin County colleagues — Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, and Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

“We’re so thrilled that you’re here and you’re setting up,” Whipps said before addressing van der Velden personally. “It’s so great to see new leadership here and somebody who’s got ideas for the future, and it’s just a pleasure to be here.

“One of the things I feel most honored about being a representative here in Massachusetts is we’re a commonwealth. And there’s only three other states that designate themselves as commonwealths in the country,” she added, mentioning that the others are Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky. “There’s basically a political ideology that we look out for each other and that we’re here for each other. And there’s no greater example than a community health center.”

The Community Health Center of Franklin County provides medical and dental care, nutritional advice, and behavioral health and substance abuse treatment.

Whipps said the COVID-19 pandemic has upended people’s lives. She said her office has been flooded with calls from constituents scared about uncertainty, job loss and food insecurity. She believes a public mental health crisis will emerge once the virus is under control, but referred to the community health center as a “bright little ray of sunshine.”

The Community Health Center of Franklin County already has a location in Orange — a 6,570-square-foot facility at 450 West River St. Staff must be out of the current spot, owned by Heywood Hospital, by the end of October.

The new two-building, 22,000-square-foot site allows the organization to expand and own its own property. The health center will occupy 13,200 square feet, using the single-occupancy building as well as a vacant part of the multi-tenant building, van der Velden said previously. The center is borrowing about $3.2 million from Greenfield Savings Bank, which was represented at the groundbreaking ceremony, to purchase and renovate the property. The multi-tenant building houses several businesses that will not be moved.

Van der Velden said the current Orange location has 3½ medical providers (three full-timers and one part-timer) and 2½ dentists (two full-time and one part-time), numbers that will increase by two each when the new space opens. The Community Health Center of Franklin County plans to take on as much care as possible at the Greenfield site at 102 Main St. during the overlap between October and the opening of the new facility, and some services will be held in available space at the new Orange location.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.




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