Barber (Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation) tells a rousing story of citizen disruption centered on the Community Health Center (CHC) in Middletown, Connecticut. Starting from a small free dental clinic, the CHC grew into a free health care institution serving thousands each year and having a positive impact on people—and other nonprofits inspired by its success—across the country. Although it faced opposition from the medical establishment, political leaders, and what Barber identifies as its home state’s “steady habits,” the CHC overcame these challenges to provide care for many people who desperately needed it. The book closes with a description of the CHC’s work in managing and staffing mass vaccination clinics for COVID-19, which Barber sees as proof of the institution’s continued ability to treat patients with a “consuming relentlessness.”
Barber centers the story on the contributions, philosophy, and organizational skills of Mark Masselli, who founded CHC at age 22 and eventually saw it flourish, but he also describes the many other people who have contributed to the success of the institution over the years, from Lillian Reba Moses, a leader in the Middletown community and long-time board member to Margaret Flinter, a nurse practitioner who joined CHC in 1980 and transformed its clinical care. Peace & Health is rich in illustrations, providing strong visual appeal to go along with the compelling story.
The story of the CHC is, in many ways, the story of the free clinic movement in America – from its founding as one of a wave of clinics to the Community Development Block Grant program and its eventual status as a Federally Qualified Health Center (and FQHC Look-Alike). Barber does an excellent job sharing the CHC’s history—and its vision of health care as a right. A reader interested in the history of free clinics, or health care in general, will find Peace & Health fascinating and inspiring.
Takeaway: The fascinating story of Connecticut’s Community Health Center, a visionary free clinic.
Great for fans of: Gregory L. Weiss’s Grassroots Medicine, Catherine Mas’s Culture in the Clinic.
Production grades Cover: B+ Design and typography: A Illustrations: A Editing: A Marketing copy: A-
A chronicle of Middletown, Connecticut’s Community Health Center from its modest beginnings in the 1970s to its frontline fight against Covid-19 today.
In October 1973, recent college dropout Mark Masselli rolled out a sleeping bag in the cold, dangerous North End of Middletown, Connecticut. For three days he half-slept outside the building at 631 Main St. to ambush the delinquent leasee for the keys to the abandoned Carrie Plumbing & Heating Company, soon to be the neighborhood’s Community Health Center. Such was the modest beginning and first location of the CHC, which over the next several decades would evolve from a much-needed independent free clinic providing dental services and sickle cell anemia screenings to a federally qualified health center with numerous locations. Mark, educated in the activism of the 1970s and assisted by proximity to Wesleyan University, was aided by others, including pharmacists, doctors, and community figures who believed in the basic tenet that “healthcare is a right and not a privilege.” They would work to bring patient-centered care to overlooked poor, immigrant, and minority citizens. The steady growth of the CHC and the champions behind it are beautifully featured in pages of full-color and black-and-white photos and news clippings as well as sobering early balance sheets. Their battles, including bureaucratic fights with a callous city hall, prepared the CHC to later respond quickly to the Covid-19 pandemic. Barber’s book boasts attractive layouts and design, vibrantly presenting a thorough timeline of the CHC, its innovations and expansions, and the development of its internationally recognized research entity, the Weitzman Institute. The story is as much about Masselli as a personality as it is about the clinics he founded, and it effectively captures his devotion to equity in health care through shared missives and regular examples of leadership through listening. Still, the book can be a bit dry and textbooklike in its presentation, which might have been alleviated by more expansive interviews and testimonials. Overall, though, there’s a hopefulness in seeing such important services not only surviving, but thriving.
A colorfully presented and encouraging history of an important community institution.