Starting next week, Mabel Carroll and her neighbors in West Rock’s public-housing developments won’t have to take two buses to see a doctor.
They’ll be able to walk down the street to a new outpost of the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center at Wilmot Crossing, in the heart of an isolated cluster of public-housing developments in the shadow of West Rock.
Carroll, a Wilmot Crossing resident and a Hill Health board member for 40 years, joined officials Thursday in cutting the ribbon on the center.
“This is our future,” said. “And there is more to come.”
Hill Health CEO Michael Taylor asked the crowd gathered for the ribbon-cutting to bear with him.
“We are literally brimming and beaming with pride, joy, and gratitude today,” he said as he whisked away a tear.
The facility, which was created with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, is one of the 290 federally qualified health centers through out the country.
Taylor credited the vision of former housing authority officials Sheila Allen-Bell and Jimmy Miller with planting the seed for the new center six years ago. Allen-Bell back then invited him to take a ride out to Wilmot Road, where public housing was being renovated and restored, to pitch the idea of a health center in the isolated enclave.
“I don’t know if any of you have ever had the experience of taking a ride before but it’s not to be forgotten,” he said jokingly of Allen-Bell, who retired from the housing authority two years ago and now serves on the Cornell Scott board. “She brought me to the beginning of the renovation and reconstitution of this community and shared with me her vision of what this could be and I was hooked from day one.”
Taylor said that the Wilmot Crossing center is not only beautiful but also “state of the art in every regard.”
“We’ll offer primary care, behavioral health, and dental services here,” he said. “And also we will rotate through a series of specialty services as dictated and informed by our patients. And we can’t wait to get started.”
The Wilmot Crossing center received its operating licenses from the state Department of Public Health on Wednesday. The wait for that license had delayed the opening Taylor said, but the center will be truly open for business starting next week.
“We will become a part of the fabric of the West Rock community,” Taylor said.
Karen DuBois-Walton, executive director of the housing authority, said that the West Rock neighborhood has been a health care desert as it had been a food desert before a grocery was added to the community. The far-flung neighborhood, which was once also cut off from the next nearest community, Hamden, by a fence, is a health care desert no more, she said.
“We literally tear down walls and this community represents the tearing down of the wall between us and the town of Hamden,” DuBois-Walton said. “We are doing that in ways that create opportunities for families.”
She noted that 15 percent of Connecticut communities have insufficient access to primary health care. When you adjust that for demographic and economic factors, that percentage grows to 26 percent for African-Americans and 24 percent of Latino families have access difficulties, she said.
“Today, celebrating this opening represents access for hundreds of families here,” DuBois-Walton said. “There are over 600 families that we provide housing for here but this is open to the larger community and we hope our friends in Hamden make use of the center, and others who live in West Rock, and the New Haven community all know this is a place you can come and receive services.”