The history of the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center must be placed within the context of the community it serves. Located 26 miles north of Boston in the Merrimack River Valley of Massachusetts, Lawrence is unique in that it is a poor city almost by design. Once a rural farming area, Lawrence was transformed in 1847 into a major textile center supporting America’s first large scale industry. Its rich industrial history is marked by the Bread and Roses strike of 1912, which led to child labor laws in the United States. The thriving mills attracted workers from all across New England and eventually immigrants from Europe and the Middle East. By the turn of the last century, more than 100,000 immigrant workers were employed in the mills and living in company housing.
As each new generation of workers achieved prosperity, it moved on only to be replaced by another immigrant population. The city prospered until the post World War II period, when the textile factories and shoe manufacturers moved south leaving Lawrence without a committed institutional base. By the 1970s, Lawrence experienced a significant demographic shift with its Caucasian population moving to the suburbs while minority populations from the Caribbean basin came in unprecedented numbers to the inner-city residential neighborhoods.
With the mills no longer operational, poverty and high unemployment prevailed among the newly arrived Latino population. In addition, many Lawrence physicians relocated their medical practices in more affluent neighboring communities leaving the city’s indigent and minority residents without access to regular primary care providers. Language barriers, social isolation, and inadequate housing further exacerbated poor health outcomes. As a result, the emergency rooms of the two area hospitals began to see increasing numbers of Latino immigrants in need of primary care services. In an effort to curb this inappropriate use of the ER, the hospitals were instrumental in working with the local Community Action Council to establish the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center.
For nearly 30 years, GLFHC’s presence in the city of Lawrence has ensured that the indigent, minorities, and working poor have access to quality primary health care. The city’s 72,043 residents live within its seven square miles, making it one of the most densely populated urban communities in the country (2000 U.S. Census). More than 51 percent of Lawrence residents live below the federal poverty levels and nearly 60 percent of the population is Latino – the city has the largest proportion of Hispanics of any Massachusetts community.
Although the Health Center’s presence in the community has been felt on a number of fronts, Lawrence continues to experience health disparities as evidenced by elevated rates for asthma, diabetes, respiratory infections, teen pregnancy, and lead paint poisoning. GLFHC’s programs are structured to eliminate these gaps by effectively integrating social programs with our clinical services. As we work to improve the health status of our patients, GLFHC places strong emphasis on providing a prevention-oriented approach.