PORTSMOUTH — The dawn of the next chapter in Families First’s history is imminent, with the official opening of the nonprofit community health center’s newest home scheduled for the end of the month.
The celebration of the facility and increase in services for the center, which has origins rooted in Portsmouth Regional Hospital dating back to 1984, have already begun.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony for Families First’s new space at 8 Greenleaf Woods Drive was held amid a snowstorm Friday, attended by numerous health leaders and local and state leaders. The 16,000-square-foot space, previously home to Seacoast Sports Club, gives Families First exam rooms and dental operatories and provides several new services to local patients.
Families First, currently located at the Community Campus and under the umbrella of the Greater Seacoast Community Health network, will officially open its new doors Jan. 31.
“At one point, the space was enough and it was adequate,” said Greater Seacoast Community Health CEO Janet Laatsch of the Community Campus, “but we’re growing so much that we had to move.”
Laatsch previously told the Portsmouth Herald that a “friendly donor” purchased the Greenleaf Woods Drive building and invited Families First to become a tenant, though she did not share the cost of that sale.
Data provided by Families First, which serves all patients regardless of economic status, shows that a public capital campaign for the nonprofit brought in nearly $2.1 million for the project.
On hand for the occasion were New Hampshire’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, alongside city Mayor Deaglan McEachern, state Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, Executive Councilor Janet Stevens, R-Rye, Families First chief medical officer Dr. Joann Buonomano, donors and more.
Hassan pointed to challenges hospitals and health care workers across the Granite State are facing amid the surging COVID-19 omicron variant, encouraging vaccinations and for people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act marketplace before the open enrollment period concludes on Jan. 15.
“This is the kind of primary care, integrated program and center that we really need to see more and more of and I’m just very proud of the work that Families First does,” she said.
What services will be offered at the new Families First site?
Construction of the new site, overseen by Portsmouth’s WJP Development, began in February 2021. In just a few weeks, the finishing touches will be complete and the center will be ready to show off its expanded and additional services.
Families First will now have 15 exam rooms at Greenleaf Woods Drive, five more than its current home. The new location will also accommodate an expansion of dental operating rooms, increasing from three at the current site to five at the new complex.
A five-year projection from the nonprofit estimates that, with the expansion in dental and medical care, there will be 11,375 additional patient visits annually.
Families First will house a Strength Over Stigma (SOS) Recovery Center and a pharmacy onsite, in addition to space for substance misuse disorder treatment groups to gather and for Portsmouth Regional Hospital’s family practice residency program.
Though there are SOS Recovery Center locations in Hampton, Dover and Rochester, the one inside Families First will be the first of its kind in Portsmouth.
Families First says the center’s new home, albeit with proper public health protocols, will be able to accommodate approximately 75 employees, a slight uptick from current capacity at the Community Campus.
Attending his first mayoral ribbon-cutting, McEachern, who was inaugurated with the city’s eight other City Council members earlier this week, said he feels a great deal of pride seeing the Families First project come to fruition.
“We are only as strong as a community as the strength of our families, and I think everybody knows when somebody that you love is sick or needs care, it really takes a toll on your family,” he said. “So to have something like this here for all members of our community to enjoy, it is fantastic.”
How many new patients can Families First serve?
Current statistics from Families First show the center tends to 19,000 patients annually. By 2024, its leaders are projecting they’ll receive an additional 3,500 on an annual basis.
While open to all, a significant portion of patients seeking medical care from Families First are low-income residents.
The federal poverty level for a household of four is $26,500. Families First reports 23% of its patients live below the national poverty line.
Almost half of Families First patients are covered by Medicaid, though 14% of patients are uninsured.
“Let’s make sure that everyone in New Hampshire has a primary care provider,” Buonomano said. “It is so important.”
What is the history of Families First?
In 1984, the Portsmouth Prenatal Clinic was founded at the city hospital, now Portsmouth Regional Hospital, a program that later added a family center, parental aide program and full-scale primary care services.
Eventually renamed Families First of the Greater Seacoast, the center and its programs later moved to its Community Campus location in 1999. In efforts to serve the local homeless population, Families First received its first federal grant which ultimately founded its mobile health services.
Over the years, the mobile health unit has come to include primary, dental and mental health care, as well as substance abuse counseling and care coordination, to the homeless and other local vulnerable groups.
In January 2018, Families First merged with Goodwin Community Health of Somersworth to form the Greater Seacoast Community Health network. Six months later, Lilac City Pediatrics of Rochester joined the network.
Having served nearly 18,000 patients across its three community health centers, the network employs a total of 275 employees and operates on a $20.2 million annual budget.
Open enrollment is ending soon: Here’s how to sign up
Available through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, open enrollment is coming to a close next Saturday, Jan. 15. Enrollment began on Nov. 1, 2021.
“With the deadline to sign up for health care insurance through the ACA quickly approaching, I hope that Granite Staters take advantage of affordable premiums I fought to pass and sign up for life-saving coverage,” Shaheen said in a prepared statement.
Open enrollment help: healthcare.gov.