November 8, 2023

Lowell CHC’s Sheila Och Testifies at the Annual Health Care Cost Trends Hearing

Lowell CHC’s Sheila Och testifying at the Annual Health Care Cost Trends Hearing.

Below is the full text of Sheila’s testimony.

Good Morning.  I want to express my gratitude to the organizers for bringing us together for this essential panel. A special thanks to our Attorney General, whose insightful words have set an inspirational tone for our discussions today.

I’m Sheila Och, serving as the Chief Engagement and Equity Officer at Lowell Community Health Center and I also serve as a Community Health Worker and Spanish-speaking Medical Interpreter. I am also a proud member of the Health Equity Compact, a coalition of over 80 leaders of color from various sectors in Massachusetts, united to advance health equity in our state.

I am here today to share my community perspective on the Commission’s recommendations on addressing social determinants of health investments and support for community-led initiatives, and the importance of having a culturally proficient workforce.

As a Community Health Worker in Lowell for over 20 years, I can attest to the impact of initiatives I will be speaking about in a diverse city with the second-largest Cambodian population in the US and half of its population being from the global majority.

Coexisting with this strength and richness, are community health disparities across multiple categories.  Systemic racism and historical disinvestment have exacerbated social vulnerabilities, directly impacting health outcomes.

 The CDC Social Vulnerability Index sheds light on these disparities in key social determinants of health – such as housing, transportation and poverty.  Our census tract has an index score of .82, placing it in the highest vulnerability quartile. Higher index scores are associated with increased healthcare spending and overall health inequities.

Community Health Centers in Massachusetts are innovating to tackle health disparities by creating inclusive and integrated care models while addressing workforce shortages.

Our Metta Health Center, an exemplary initiative, offers holistic care to refugees and immigrants who have experienced trauma, including war and political unrest.

By blending global healthcare approaches and providing primary care, behavioral health services, acupuncture, meditation, and community outreach, Metta patients demonstrate significant improvements in chronic conditions like diabetes, depression, and PTSD.

These success stories emphasize the crucial role of Community Health Centers, expanding care models, and fostering cultural proficiency in healthcare & our workforce.

The Health Policy Commission’s Report emphasizes the significance of supporting and investing in the Commonwealth’s healthcare workforce, with specific mention of CHWs and promotion of workforce diversity.

CHWs play an essential role due to their strong community ties, unwavering empathy, resilience, creativity, skills, and profound respect for their communities. Building trust with the community, particularly within communities of color, involving them in decision-making, and fostering a culturally proficient workforce are paramount for addressing health disparities and ensuring success.

National studies have demonstrated that CHW programs yield an average savings of $2,245 per patient served.  These programs not only improve health outcomes for patients and communities but also provide significant financial benefits.

Our Asthma Project, which I was involved in, helps illustrate this. Our project aimed to improve living conditions for low-income families with asthmatic children, resulting in an 81% reduction in emergency room visits for the 239 kids within the program.  

The same is true for our older adults in the programIn 2017, a 71-year-old patient joined Asthma program, struggling with uncontrolled asthma that frequently necessitated urgent care visits. The CHW recognized his commitment and via our integrated care approach, the CHW provided him with a spacer for his inhaler, which made an immediate difference, along with practical tools like a HEPA vacuum and allergen-proof bedding and a personalized Asthma Action Plan.  Years later, the patient and CHW reunited in October 2023, acknowledging the program’s impact on his quality of life. He now enjoys time with his grandchildren, free from asthma attacks, demonstrating the enduring impact of equity-centered interventions.

The project’s success is due to our dedicated CHWs who conducted home assessments, educational visits, and provided essential resources.

This one single intervention could save our health system over half a million dollars. However, despite all this evidence, securing adequate funding remains a challenge due to historical lack of reimbursement and investments. Consistent financial backing is needed, as our current support relies on a patchwork of grants from various sources.

The Commission’s report provides actionable solutions for strengthening the workforce, connecting with communities, restoring trust in healthcare, and promoting thriving communities. It emphasizes addressing social determinants of health, promoting innovative strategies, and investing in our healthcare workforce.

The Health Equity Compact priorities echo these recommendations, emphasizing investments in public health workforce infrastructure and Health Equity Zones to empower community-led health initiatives.

In closing – As one of our patients stated “I’ve had depression all my life, but thanks to the help and support I’ve received from Lowell CHC, I’ve been able to raise my children and live a normal life. I consider myself one of the lucky ones.”

This is 2023 and getting access to care like this shouldn’t be about luck in a state like ours that has already done so much to advance health care.

We have a moral obligation to address disparities and inequities in health, and our state has the opportunity to lead the way once again.

Our objective is to give everyone an opportunity for a healthy life. I think this is something everyone in this room can agree with.

To make this happen we need let go of traditional healthcare funding models and invest in doing things differently.

It’s time to turn our awareness into impactful action.

To echo our community – What we need now is the courage to make necessary decisions.

Thank you.

November 1, 2023

Our Impact 2022/2023

November 3, 2023

The Women’s Edge and Globe Magazine Honor Lowell CHC in Annual Top 100 Women-Led Businesses

The Women’s Edge, in collaboration with Globe Magazine, has once again named Lowell Community Health Center (Lowell CHC) as one of the Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts. This is the fifth consecutive year Lowell CHC has received this honor. This prestigious recognition celebrates women-led organizations that have a profound economic and societal impact here in Massachusetts.

“Our staff choose to dedicate their careers to this community, and our patients purposefully choose us for their care — a testament to the mutual trust and respect cultivated at Lowell CHC. Receiving this acknowledgment from The Women’s Edge and Globe Magazine for a fifth consecutive year is a remarkable honor that genuinely reflects the commitment and passion of our team,” expressed Susan West Levine, CEO of Lowell Community Health Center. “We are honored to be included among such influential women-led organizations, including UMass Lowell, collectively driving progress and making a meaningful impact throughout Massachusetts.”

Now in its 23rd year, The Women’s Edge, a Boston-based nonprofit organization, has been steadfast in its commitment to uplifting women in leadership roles. This collaboration with Globe Magazine marks a decade of recognizing excellence across both for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. Criteria for the Top 100 list include revenue or operating budget, workplace and management diversity, board composition, and innovation in projects.

The 2023 awardees were celebrated at a special ceremony on November 3rd, with the full list of honorees available on Globe Magazine’s website.

The Women’s Edge 2023 Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts:

September 26, 2023

Dr. Alison Curcio Appointed as Chief of Patient Walk-In Center at Lowell Community Health Center

Lowell Community Health Center is delighted to announce the appointment of Dr. Alison Curcio as the new Chief of the Patient Walk-In Center. Dr. Curcio brings with her 18 years of frontline emergency medicine experience and specialized training in Simulation Medicine aimed at enhancing patient safety and care quality. She has also previously contributed to the Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee, developing protocols for optimized medication use in Emergency Departments.

Dr. Curcio received her undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, completed her medical education at Emory University School of Medicine, and subsequently pursued a residency in Emergency Medicine through the Harvard program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

Susan West Levine, CEO of Lowell Community Health Center, praised the appointment, stating, “We are exceptionally fortunate to have Dr. Curcio join our team. With her years of frontline emergency medicine experience and specialized training in Simulation Medicine, she brings significant expertise to our health center. Dr. Curcio will be instrumental in developing a service model that better guides patients to the most appropriate care settings, thereby reducing unnecessary emergency room visits. Her leadership will be key to expanding our Walk-In Center’s services to better meet the healthcare needs of our community.”

Dr. Alison Curcio expressed her enthusiasm, saying, “I am excited to work with such an incredible team at the Patient Walk-In Center, and at the health center, and to be able to continue and expand upon the tremendous services provided by the walk-in center.”

Dr. Kumble Rajesh, Chief Medical Officer of Lowell Community Health Center, highlighted the significance of her expertise, noting, “Dr. Curcio’s vast experience in emergency medicine will be invaluable in optimizing and expanding our services at the Patient Walk-In Center and to the patients we serve.”

About the Patient Walk-In Center

The Patient Walk-In Center offers a range of Immediate Care walk-in services for Lowell Community Health Center patients. Services include, but are not limited to, sick visits, joint injuries, stitches, assistance with sprains and back pain, treatment of skin infections such as poison ivy, non-severe allergy management, ear lavage, and on-the-spot testing for conditions like COVID-19, pregnancy, urinary infections, vaginal infections, sore throats, and flu.

Click Here – To learn about the Patient Walk-In Center and its hours.

September 22, 2023

Bridging the Gap 2023

Congratulations to this year’s participants in the Bridging the Gap Professional Medical Interpreter Program on successfully completing the program!

“Bridging the Gap” is a nationally recognized Health Care Interpreter Training Program developed by the Cross-Cultural Health Care Program. This rigorous 40-hour training readies participants for National Certification.

Discover more about the diverse programs we offer at our Community Health Education Center (CHEC):

September 19, 2023

Lowell CHC one of five community health centers selected in nationwide entrepreneurship competition

WASHINGTON – As part of a multi-year collaboration between Advocates for Community Health (ACH) and UnitedHealthcare, five community health centers are receiving $500,000 each to address complex problems affecting the overall wellness of the underserved communities where they provide care. The Community Health Entrepreneur Challenge, launched in April 2023, is the first collaboration between UnitedHealthcare and ACH and was crafted from a joint commitment to empower federally qualified health center (FQHC) leaders to drive change in their communities. Through the competition, ACH member health centers submitted concepts to target improved health outcomes, decrease health disparities, promote system change, and engage organizations across multiple sectors including public, private, government and community groups. Winners receive technical support and seed funding to implement and measure their innovation impact.

Click Here To Read More

July 24, 2023

Lowell Community Health Center announces new Board Chair

LOWELL — Lowell Community Health Center has announced that Caroline Duong was elected the new chair of its Board of Directors.

Read the Story in the Lowell Sun

Duong was first introduced to Lowell Community Health Center 10 years ago. In 2019, impressed by the center’s values and focus on equitable health care access for all, she eagerly accepted an invitation to serve as a member of the Board of Directors.

Duong is a native of Kenya, where she was a respected journalist and anchor on a national news program. She immigrated to the United States in 2001 to attend a professional program at Emerson College. She has worked in various fields in customer service, event planning, and human resources. Her journey eventually led her to Lowell, where she quickly began volunteering at Living Waters, a center serving individuals who had experienced trauma. There, she met a fellow volunteer, now her beloved husband, Thomas, who is of Vietnamese and Cambodian descent. Together they have two children.

Today, her passion for serving others extends to her work as a licensed professional realtor, focused on helping families in Greater Lowell find their dream homes.

“I have always been inclined to help those in need but never thought my journey in life would lead me here,” said Duong. “One of my favorite games to play is Scrabble. I often feel that it imitates life, building any word you can imagine with the random letters you pick; however, always building upon other players’ words. Likewise, we are all interdependent, standing on the shoulders of others before and amongst us, doing our very best to advance the cause with the opportunities that come our way.”

Duong continues, “When I think of our health center, in the years to come, I envision a center leading the way in meeting our community’s wholistic needs, spearheading a health justice movement with a ripple effect throughout our nation, because any community is only as healthy as its people are in every facet of life.”

“We are thrilled to welcome our new Board Chair, Caroline Duong, whose dynamic life experience and journey have led her to our health center, where she can use her incredible knowledge, compassion, and sincerity to improve the lives of those we serve and beyond,” said Susan West Levine, CEO of Lowell Community Health Center. “Caroline’s unique perspective of health justice and a holistic approach to health care mirror our mission. As we continue to serve Greater Lowell, we look forward to building a just and healthy community together under her guidance.”

Lowell Community Health Center is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors whose members reflect the rich cultural diversity of the health center’s patients and staff. As a federally qualified community health center, a majority of the board are patients who receive care at the health center. The board meets monthly to set policy and direction for the health center and adhere to its mission and values, which are rooted in social justice. The board also ensures financial and institutional sustainability by monitoring financial performance.

Duong succeeds Bruce Robinson, who served as board chair for eight years, overseeing a period of tremendous challenge and growth for the health center. Robinson stood as one of Greater Lowell’s leaders during the charge to declare racism a public health crisis. He was instrumental in the health center’s first building campaign 10 years ago, which enabled the transformational move to 161 Jackson St. He also chaired the health center’s second building campaign, which made the Niki Tsongas Eye Care Center and Nancy L and Richard K Donahue Dental Centers a reality.

Last year, the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers recognized Robinson with the Joseph M. Smith Board Member Award. In 2020, he was awarded Board Member of the Year by the Non-Profit Alliance of Greater Lowell for his service to the health center. Despite ending his term as chair, Robinson will continue to serve on the Board of Directors.

May 9, 2023


LOWELL, MAAlexandra Gray, RN, a Pediatric Nurse at Lowell Community Health Center, has been honored by her colleagues with The DAISY Award® For Extraordinary Nurses. The award is part of the DAISY Foundation’s programs nationwide to recognize the extraordinary care nurses provide every day. The award was presented during National Nurses Week.

Alex is Lowell Community Health Center’s second annual Daisy Award recipient. Lowell Community Health Center was the first community health center in the nation to begin present the Daisy Award annually.

“Alex truly exemplifies the vision and mission of the Daisy Awards,” said Dr. Elizabeth Hale, RN, DNP, Lowell Community Health Center’s Chief Operating Officer. “She is a shining example of nursing at its best, providing extraordinary compassionate and skillful care for our community’s pediatric patients as she supports, mentors, and uplifts her colleagues.”  

Alex, who joined Lowell Community Health Center in 2021 said, “I am incredibly honored and shocked by this meaningful recognition from my colleagues. It is such a privilege and honorable responsibility to care for the children of our community, and I am so grateful to be working with colleagues and a health center so dedicated to providing caring, quality, and culturally rooted health services to the people we serve. I strive to show up every day with a smile and I hope to continue to encourage my fellow colleagues to provide optimal care to the community.”

The colleagues who nominated Alex spoke highly of her skill and compassion:

  • “Alex truly embodies an enduring commitment to promoting health equity for all of the patients she has met or worked with in the health center.”
  • “Alex creates a positive experience for patient coming into the health center, even for the pediatric patients who may be absolutely terrified to be there.”
  • “Alex goes above and beyond to help her patients receive the care they need.”
  • “Alex rises to each challenge with an open mind, a smile, and so much positivity.”
  • “Alex is a true mentor to all of her colleagues, and her supportive nature makes her an excellent teacher.”

An acronym for Diseases Attacking the Immune SYstem, The DAISY Foundation was formed in November 1999 by the family of J. Patrick Barnes who died at age 33 of complications of Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP). The nursing care Patrick and his family received while he was ill inspired his family to create this unique means of thanking nurses for making a profound difference in the lives of patients and their families. 

Said Bonnie Barnes, FAAN, Doctor of Humane Letters and Co-Founder of The DAISY Foundation, “We wanted to give patients, families, and co-workers an easy way to express their gratitude for nurses who provide extraordinary, compassionate care. The work the nurses at Lowell Community Health Center are called on to do every day epitomizes the purpose of the DAISY Award.”

In addition to the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses, the Foundation expresses gratitude to

the nursing profession internationally in over 5,000 healthcare facilities and schools of nursing with recognition of Nurse-led Teams, Nurse Leaders, Nurses Advancing Health Equity,

Nursing Faculty, Nursing Students, Lifetime Achievement in Nursing and through the J. Patrick Barnes Grants for Nursing Research and Evidence-Based Practice Projects, Medical Mission Grants, and their new Health Equity Grant programs. More information is available at       

About Lowell Community Health Center:

Founded in 1970, Lowell Community Health Center serves as the “family doctor” for nearly half of Lowell’s population, by providing “caring, quality, and culturally appropriate health services to the people of Greater Lowell, regardless of their financial status.” For information, visit or call 978.937.9700.