Can a Narrow Hallway Close a Community Health Center and Why Patients Make Up the Board: The Start of Mark Masselli Commitment to Middletown, Connecticut

No, Mark Masselli didn’t split the building

Geri Weitzman, a pharmacist and the son of a pharmacist who owned Pelton’s drugstore on Main Street in Middletown was part of Mark Masselli’s inspiration the creation of Community Health Center–Geri Weitzman went on to become a founding board member too.

Mark Masselli started the Community Health Center as a free clinic on a second floor walk-up just off Main Street. It might have seen like San Francisco–there was tie-dye hangings; on the wall beaded curtains separated the room, and that slight scent of incense was in the air.

The roots Mark Masselli started was bound up in the national free clinic movement started by his friends at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics in San Francisco. At the time, there were only two health centers in Connecticut that came out of this movement: Mark Masselli’s starting one in the Fair Haven Health Center, and was fortunate to work with one of Connecticut’s brightest Public Health leaders, Katrina Clark, who passed away recently..

Katrina started the Fair Haven clinic, inspiring people within the local communities who worked hard and raised families but because of poverty and race and language were often ignored. With them as leaders and mentors and, it seems like a classic American story–that’s to say that all success stories start with grand failures, and Mark Masselli’s initial attempt was no exception.

Within months of opening, the Center was shut down by the State Department of Health at the behest of local doctors. After opening, there was a knock on the door and it was the State Health Department. Then they asked to see Mark Masselli’s license for the Center.

Well, it turned there was a valid application and all the criteria, but inspectors kept coming back and finally said, “I’m sorry to tell you, but your hallways leading up to the Community Health Center or one inch too narrow.” A cease and desist order issued immediately.

There were couple of options: slice the building in half, or go out of business.

There was no grant funding to start off with or any traditional support, and the entire local medical community had written the state asking how non-health care folks could be running in a free clinic.

But Mark Masselli chose a third option and renovated a new space on Main Street in the North End of Middletown which was completed with volunteer support. If anyone has ever been to one of the 206 plus locations in Connecticut and wonder why they have such wide hallways, now you know! Some sort of post-traumatic hallway syndrome…

From the founding in 1972, Community Health Center was a mission-based organization. Mark Masselli always asked and debated among other board members what their values were, and what should be the values that would be fundamental to a fair and just health system.

For the Community Health Center, one foundation was consumer control. Since the inception, amazingly their board has been made up of over half of those who are active patients and this value has been fundamental to who the Center is and to their success.

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