From its humble start in a mobile medical van in 1994, the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center has expanded its footprint with a new four-story, 24,400-square-foot addition.
From its humble start in a mobile medical van in 1994, the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center has expanded its footprint with a new four-story, 24,400-square-foot addition.
Brockton Neighborhood Health Center

The Brockton Neighborhood Health Center has opened a new four-story, 24,400-square-foot addition that provides doctors and nurses with room to serve more patients.

The expansion increased the amount of space for adult primary care, obstetrics and gynecology, behavioral health, pediatrics, and social services. An eye and vision clinic was also added, and the capacity for dental care has been doubled.

The additional room will help accommodate the increasing demand for health services in an urban community with a diverse population.

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“This will mean a lot for downtown Brockton,” said Mel Benson, chief financial officer for the health center.

It also marks a high point for the local nonprofit, which started serving patients from a mobile medical van in a church parking lot in 1994 and has since evolved into a multimillion-dollar health center at 63 Main St.

The facility gets 400 to 500 new patients a month, according to Sue Joss, the health center’s chief executive officer.

“It’s certainly reflective of the primary care shortage in Massachusetts,” said Joss. “There’s just a huge demand. There has been since the day we opened 18 years ago in a van.”

Health care advocates fought a four-year battle to open the center in the 1990s, according to Joss.

“People did not understand what a community health center was,” said Joss. “Since then virtually everyone — well, every public official — who was opposed to it has changed their opinion. Now everyone asks, ‘When are you going to grow?’ ” 

In 2007, the nonprofit acquired a vacant lot on Main Street and built a $17 million community health center that opened its doors in November that year. A 6,100-square-foot urgent care center was added in 2010. With the latest addition, the facility has grown to occupy more than 90,000 square feet at the corner of Main Street and Legion Parkway in downtown Brockton.

“We’ve had double-digit growth every year since we’ve moved in,” said Joss.

Over the past five years, the number of patients increased from approximately 12,000 to nearly 24,000. The number of visits increased from 65,000 to 130,000. Joss said they are expecting 150,000 visits during this current fiscal year.

The health center is the largest employer to arrive in Brockton in the last 10 years, according to Christopher Cooney, president and chief executive officer of the Metro South Chamber of Commerce.

“The building is very important; the people in the building are even more important,” said Cooney. “It provides a critical mass of professionals working downtown.”

And the center has also given a boost to the local economy, said Cooney.

“Those folks are having lunch, doing dry cleaning, getting their car worked on,” he said. “It’s a tremendous shot in the arm for downtown Brockton . . . because it brings professionals and services that are beneficial to the entire socio-economic makeup” of the city.

The health center is set to grow from 330 employees to more than 430 by the end of the fiscal year next June 30 according to Benson.

The $11.3 million expansion project was funded by a federal grant through the Affordable Care Act. Monitor Builders Inc. of Boston oversaw construction of the new facility, which was designed by isgenuity LLC, a Boston-based architect and planning firm that has worked on renovation and expansion projects at several medical institutions, including Quincy Medical Center, South Shore Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Portions of the new addition opened in September. The fourth floor, which houses the dental unit and vision clinic, has been delayed a bit. The dental unit is due to open in December, and the health center plans to hire an optometrist and open the vision clinic in January.