Health center opening in Amherst behind schedule

  • In this Gazette photo from April 2017, Marlene Musante speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony for the John P. Musante Health Center in Amherst Friday morning. The center is named after her late husband, who was the town manager in Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Thursday, February 08, 2018

AMHERST — Carpeting being put down this week, after counters, cabinets and dental equipment were all installed, indicate that the John P. Musante Health Center is nearing completion.

But Hilltown Community Health Center Executive Director Eliza Lake says that the opening date for the satellite office, to be located in the lower level of the Bangs Community Center, remains uncertain after not meeting a new year opening.

“We are running a little behind schedule,” Lake said, adding that she believes the health center could begin seeing patients by mid-March.

Lake, who was at the Council on Aging meeting Feb. 1, explained that the center’s opening was delayed due to electrical equipment essential for its operation not yet arriving. That component is being manufactured and should be shipped later this month, she said.

Construction on the 4,100-square-foot space has been overseen by Wright Builders of Northampton, turning what was formerly the offices of Leisure Services and Supplemental Education into the health center.

It will offer medical, dental and behavioral health, no matter a person’s income level or immigration status. An estimated 2,700 patients each year will use the clinic for 10,200 primary and preventive medical and dental health care visits.

The project was previously delayed when issues with utilities required additional work on the exterior of the building.

Even though the build-out has taken longer than expected, Lake said most of the main hiring has occurred, with Dr. Miranda Balkin, an Amherst native, leading the center. She will be joined by two nurse practitioners and two dentists, with a receptionist and dental assistants still to be hired.

Balkin, who practices at the Huntington and Worthington locations, said she hopes to build long-term relationships with individuals and families and see people from cradle to grave.

“We’re hoping to get as much of a cross section of Amherst as possible,” Balkin said.

While the federal government has been operating on temporary spending bills, Lake said the center’s funding is secure though May. In addition, Lake said community health centers have bipartisan support, with 24 million Americans served at 9,000 sites.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.