Nestled along the eastern shore of Mount Hope Bay in Massachusetts, Fall River was a mill town for about 150 years. As recently as half a century ago, families who called it home knew the mills would provide steady employment. That changed when the economy changed, and many of the biggest mills closed down. Today about a quarter of residents live in poverty, the unemployment rate is around 9 percent.
"The health of this community is very much reflective of the economy here,” said David Weed, Coordinator of the Healthy City Fall River Initiative from the Greater Fall River Partners for a Healthier Community organization. “When people work stressful jobs, have difficulty acquiring information about things that can keep them healthy, and lack good transportation, it’s difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
However, the town has come together to get and stay healthy.
Many Health Services, One Location
Part of keeping people healthy is getting them healthy in the first place. In Fall River, that means reaching out to at-risk populations.
While the HealthFirst Family Care Center has been a part of the community for more than 40 years, a few years ago federal aid helped to expand both its structure and its mission. The new facility is five times larger than the one it replaced, but still in the heart of the town and still serving low-income residents.
The clinic is built from a renovated a former mill building along the shore of the Quequechan River, an area where a walking path will soon be constructed to encourage physical activity.
Lack of transportation is a major issue in Fall River. When people without access to a car simply can’t get to their health appointments, they are apt to let their health suffer rather than seek care that can keep them healthy. The revitalized facility concentrates a wide variety of resources in one place to help make sure that when people do come, they have access to multiple resources.
"We’re set up so that people can essentially get one stop shopping here and not have to travel to different parts of the city,” said Weed. “We have a pharmacy, our local hospital offers rehabilitative services here and we have a WIC—or Women, Infants and Children Program—that operates in the same building. So it means that families, particularly young mothers and their children, can come here and see several providers all in one visit.”