An independent-minded and geographically isolated community, Charlestown is the second smallest neighborhood in Boston, and houses both the wealthiest and poorest residents in the City of Boston. Despite these socioeconomic disparities, the Charlestown community continues to make gains in preventing and treating substance abuse - the community’s key goal.
Historically a working-class, Irish-Catholic community and geographically isolated from other Boston neighborhoods, Charlestown’s population has become more ethnically and racially diverse in the last 20 years. Simultaneously, a more affluent population began moving into Charlestown. Startling substance abuse statistics and their consequences ultimately brought this diverse community together around the common goal of reducing substance abuse and building a healthier community.
Charlestown approached the substance abuse problem by demonstrating how everyone in the community was affected and how individual and group efforts – no matter how small – would make a difference. Charlestown built upon its existing strengths, such as being a tight-knit, self-sufficient community that “took care of its own.” The Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition, founded in 2004, reached out to individuals and families affected by substance abuse, and built the capacity of the community to address its own health challenges. For example, community residents were trained to go into the schools and teach substance abuse prevention curricula to students. Most recently, a community health worker model has been utilized to prevent and reduce opiate overdoses. Ultimately, Charlestown has been successful in creating substance abuse treatment resources, bolstering police engagement, and building a stronger recovery community, leading to increased treatment admissions, fewer overdoses, and a decreased drug abuse mortality rate.
In order to assess previous effectiveness and to identify emerging challenges, the Center for Community Health Improvement conducted a community health assessment in Charlestown during 2008 to 2009. Data was collected from MassCHIP, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s online data source, and from meetings with MGH Charlestown leaders and key community stakeholders. An eleven-item survey was sent to all health center staff to further determine priority health needs.
Based on the assessment, the community health improvement goals continue to be the prevention and reduction of substance abuse. In addition, the MGH Charlestown HealthCare Center is working to increase physical activity, especially among youth, and to improve mental health, particularly by serving youth on the Autism Spectrum.
In addition to addressing Charlestown’s priority health needs, MGH also works to meet the basic health care needs of the Charlestown community. With rates of heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, and substance abuse higher in Charlestown than in any other Boston neighborhood, the MGH Charlestown HealthCare Center provides essential health care, mental health, and education services to the people of Charlestown. In 2009, comprehensive health services were provided to 9,000 patients over the course of 56,000 visits.