Martha Eliot Health Center to stop treating adults; will focus solely on children and teens

Boston Children’s Hospital, which has operated the Martha Eliot Health Center for 40 years, has decided to stop treating adults there, the hospital told employees today.

Hospital executives said they have evaluated their strategy for Martha Eliot over the past year, and decided to focus expertise and resources “on children and adolescents alone and transfer care of adult patients to other providers in the community’’ over the next few months.

The health center, which was founded in the 1950s to care for residents of the Bromley-Heath housing development in Jamaica Plain, provides medical care to mostly low-income families and runs outreach programs that address obesity, asthma, mental health, violence, and other issues.

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The change means significantly fewer patients will receive care at Martha Eliot, which treats about 5,000 adults and 4,000 children and teenagers.

The hospital would not comment about potential layoffs among the 100 employees. But the e-mail to staff from Chief Executive Dr. James Mandell and President Sandra Fenwick said they would try to find jobs for workers affected by the change at Children’s or at other health centers or hospitals that take on the adult patients.

Hospital spokesman Rob Graham said that while most patients at the center are covered by Medicaid, which pays less than commercial insurers, the decision was not based on financial considerations. “Providing access to top quality care in the community—even at a loss—is part of our mission, and we budget for that,’’ he said in an e-mail. “We do not expect to break even as a result of our decision to transition adult patients from MEHC to adult providers.”

In their e-mail to staff, hospital leaders said: “We want to assure you that Boston Children’s is not changing its mission. We remain firmly committed to improving the health of children and adolescents in Boston and we will continue to operate and support community health and outreach efforts that address the needs of Boston’s children and teens.’’

Before the health center was founded, Bromley-Heath residents who needed pediatric care would bring their children to a makeshift “well-baby” clinic in a woodworking room at the development.

In 1957, Harvard University delegated Dr. Martha May Eliot, a professor of maternal and child health, to collaborate with the Boston health commissioner to create a pilot program that eventually became the center.