Chelsea Health Center To Build a New Home


Front Page / Mar. 26, 2009 12:00am EDT

By Cornelia Cesari

Chelsea Health Center To Build a New Home By Cornelia Cesari

Five years after receiving a surprise bequest of $700,000, the Chelsea Health Center is poised to break ground for a new building near its current building on Route 110 just north of the village.

Kathryn Bishop Avery (1904-2003), born and raised in Townsend, married John Avery and worked as a bookkeeper for his garage/machine shop in southern Vermont. The couple moved to his native Strafford together, where they lived on Old City Falls Road. She developed a strong loyalty to her physician, Dr. Luke Howe, one of the co-founders of the CHC, and she served for awhile on its board.

John and Kathryn never had children of their own and a few years after she was widowed in 1960 Kathryn moved away; but for over 40 years, she kept a bequest to the Chelsea Health Center in her will.

We didn't dare count on the money for some time," explained longtime board member Rita Edwards. "We figured her husband's family might challenge the gift, and I believe someone did; but I guess her intent was clear." Her intent is echoed by David Otterman, her attorney and financial guardian. Her wish to support the Health Center, he feels, was partially a result of her own care but perhaps more directly a result of the care her husband received from Dr. Howe during his battle with cancer.

First in the Nation

It is perhaps a little known fact that the Chelsea Health Center is the first community-owned nonprofit health center in the nation. In 1952, former Vermont Gov. Stanley C. Wilson of Chelsea approached two young University of Vermont medical students, Brewster Martin and Luke Howe, who lived in Chelsea and Tunbridge, respectively. He asked them for a commitment of service to the community, and in exchange he donated the building and lands, and spearheaded a fundraising campaign to outfit the facility.

For the first 40 years, health care providers rented space in the facility, furnished and fully equipped. In the early 90s, the Center contracted with Gifford Medical Center, rather than individual physicians, and also with the Clara Martin Center to provide mental health services. Dr. Martin negotiated this new arrangement with Gifford before his death.

Now, Kathryn Avery's gift has provided the board of directors "with the means to provide for a more expansive strategy for the guarding and preservation of the health of the community," according to the CHC strategic plan.

The bequest is being used, along with a bridge loan from Randolph National Bank and a 30-year loan from the USDA, to help fund construction of the new facility.

Permitting has been completed, and the building has gone out to bid. Construction will begin this spring.

The two primary tenants in the new building will be Gifford Medical Center and Clara Martin Center, but the plans, designed by Joseph Architects of Waterbury, include additional spaces available for other tenants, in keeping with the mission of the CHC.

Possibilities include dental or eye care, pharmaceutical supplies, or alternative health care providers.

CHS is governed by a board of trustees of up to 14 regular members, plus honorary members. At least one regular member must be a physician, and the board strives to maintain representation from the towns which make up the Health Center's catchment area: Chelsea, Tunbridge, Washington, and Vershire.

The late Dr. Martin was inarguably a legend statewide and beyond, but there have been other excellent care providers in the Chelsea community as well, including Dr. Luke Howe, Dr. Dan Wing, and Dr. Joshua Plavin. Starr Strong, P.A., has been practicing in Chelsea for many years; the center is also served by two physicians—Dr. Robert Kiess and Dr. Brian Sargent.

Both are family physicians committed to the notion of community health care as Dr. Martin practiced it: "pediatrics to geriatrics."

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