Editorial: Monday Shorts: Wilson’s back on the radar

  • Architect’s rendering of the new façade for the Wilson’s Department Store block, should Green Fields Market move into the space. Contributed drawing

Published: 5/2/2021 3:58:29 PM

Here are some brief thoughts on recent happenings in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region.

Probably a lot of readers would like to see a new sign on the Wilson’s block so they could move on from the sad reminder of their late, favorite department store. So it was welcome news that the Franklin Community Co-op’s Green Fields Market is revisiting its plan to expand into the former Wilson’s Department Store, plans that were disrupted once the COVID-19 pandemic hit over a year ago. At that time, the grocery even shared an architect’s rendering of a new facade, showing brickwork that harkened back to its 1876 roots and decorative dentil molding that may be hidden under the modern panels.

But enough nostalgia. Looking ahead, Communications Manager Sarah Kanabay said, “What this means right now is that we are once more in active dialogue about the Wilson’s property and its potential as an expansion location.”

If this falls through, we may just have to revisit some of those ideas from the tongue-in-cheek editorial of Nov. 30, 2019, “(There must be) 50 ways to reuse Wilson’s:” Idea #7. The Dexter Marsh Memorial Dinosaur Museum and Study Center; Idea #17. Staging area for the zombie apocalypse; Idea #27. Amazon fulfillment center.

Another health care milestone

Readers with long memories can recall the beginnings of the radical new experiment that was the Community Health Center of Franklin County. Its mission was to provide primary care on a sliding-scale basis to uninsured and underinsured residents, as well as those insured by HMOs and major medical plans.

Back in the mid-1990s, if you didn’t have health insurance, your options for quality medical care were very limited. That’s why area health care advocates spent more than three years planning and raising money for what U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Mass., who pressed for federal funds, called a “bold vision” with “enormous merit.”

The late Dr. Sarah Kemble served as its first medical director. More than 700 residents signed up as members, like the woman who told our reporter she had gone without health care for five years prior to its opening; some of those patients served on its first board of directors. The CHCFC opened its doors in 1997 at the Farren Care Center in Montague and has grown exponentially ever since, eventually adding dental care, another unmet need.

Last week, the Community Health Center of Franklin County celebrated a milestone with the grand opening at its new Orange location at 119 New Athol Road, three times larger than its previous site in Orange. It is collaborating with and sharing a building with Behavioral Health Network, which will address mental health and substance abuse issues.

Among the speakers was U.S. Rep Jim McGovern, who secured more than $1.65 million in assistance from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and has long been a vocal supporter of community health centers.

“One of the challenges with our (national) health care system is not everyone is welcome, not everybody can get access to first-class care,” McGovern said. “Here, everybody does. Everybody is welcome.”

New internship program

Health care is one of the economic drivers of Franklin County and the impetus behind a new internship program in health care professions at Turners Falls High School. The program introduces students to a variety of health care fields, culminating in a 100-hour internship in their senior year.

“Then they can decide on their own what their passion is, what they’re interested in,” Principal Joanne Menard said.

Administered by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, TFHS is the only school in Franklin County — and one of only 49 in the state — to offer one of these Innovation Pathways programs. Sophomore Cady Wozniak, who said she is interested in taking a pre-med program in college, said she was drawn to the program because of how career-oriented it is.

Health care is one field in which Franklin County has a good chance of retaining its young people once they complete their higher education. They can get good jobs in the health care field and raise families here, and that’s good for the whole economy.


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