First Choice Health Centers (FCHC) was incorporated in 1995 after a County-based Primary Care Access Plan for Connecticut showed four areas, including East Hartford, as “high priority” areas for expanding primary care access. It was started by the East Hartford Health Department with the support of community volunteers who sought to address this need.  First Choice began providing primary medical care at its flagship site at 94 Connecticut Blvd. in East Hartford on June 3, 1996.  Construction and startup operations were funded by the State of Connecticut. In 2000, the East of the River Oral Health Initiative identified a dire need for affordable dental services east of the river. As a result, dental facilities were added at our East Hartford site in July 2002 and in Manchester at 150 N. Main in September 2002, with the support of state and private foundations.  FCHC became a Federally Qualified Health Center in 2002. 

Since that time, FCHC has seen a steady growth in services, sites, and patient population, with the support of federal, state and local funders.  Its goal has been a “one-stop-shopping” model of comprehensive, person-centered care for vulnerable populations in its service area.  In FY 2003, the Center added OB/GYN services including deliveries, on site ultrasound, urodynamics and colposcopy.  Primary care services in Manchester and Vernon were opened in November 2005 and September 2007, respectively. 

In 2010 the Center opened a school based health center (SBHC) at the Cheney Technical School in Manchester and in 2014 added two more SBHCs at Rockville High School and Maple Street Elementary in Vernon, supported by $420,000 in federal school based health center funding.    The same funding supported the purchase of a mobile dental van in 2013, building on a school dental program begun in 2008.  The mobile dental van now serves 57 schools throughout the area. A fourth SBHC will be opened at Illing School in Manchester in 2017.

In 2011 the Center received $2.97 million to renovate 110 Connecticut Blvd., adding a new computer network, an elevator, and a patient fitness and nutrition center as part of the renovations.  Podiatry was added in 2012 and optometry in 2013, both of them located at 110. The Center also received a $500,000 grant to renovate 92 Connecticut Blvd.  This facility was purchased and converted to an administrative building.  92, 94, and 110 Connecticut Blvd. together comprise the FCHC main campus.  In June 2014 a new primary care site was added at 265 Ellington Road, East Hartford.

First Choice began providing outpatient Mental Health Services on-site in August 2014, with the support of a HRSA Behavioral Health Integration grant and a 2015 federal Expanded Medical Services grant.  Since then First Choice has pursued co-location of primary and behavioral care services at each location whenever possible, thereby providing integrated primary and behavioral health care throughout its system.  Substance Abuse services were added in 2016 under a HRSA Substance Abuse Expansion Grant, including those of an onsite psychiatrist.  (Medications cannot be provided on-site  due to zoning restrictions, but are available at local dispensaries.)  

In 2016 the Center acquired a large new service and administration site at 809 Main Street in East Hartford, which is being renovated with the support of a $300,000 grant from the Hartford Foundation of Public Giving. The new site will host new Geriatric and Infectious Diseases providers, a Lion’s Club Low vision Center, and the first center providing comprehensive health services to LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) patients in the area.  The new site will also host our optometry department, a family practitioner, and a mental health provider.

In addition to primary, dental, and behavioral services, First Choice has strengthened its care coordination services with the hiring of a full-time Patient Engagement Director in 2016.  Care coordinators assist patients with the barriers to care an underserved population typically faces, including navigating the health system, transportation and work-related problems, linguistic and cultural differences, and access to community services.

In February of 2016, First Choice joined the Connecticut Practice Transformation Network (PTN), which is operated under the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut using federal funds.  Under PTN, First Choice collaborates with other Connecticut health centers to promote care coordination and establish community-based health teams to support chronic care management.  First Choice has thus far received about $250,000 under this program, which among other things funded the hiring of our first full-time Patient Engagement Director.

In 2016 the Center also received over $1.5 million to renovate its 20-year old flagship healthcare facility at 94 Connecticut Blvd. from federal, state, and private sources, which will increase the number of exam rooms and dental operatories, redesign the space to better support our new ‘team-based” care model, and improve patient experience.

Finally, in November 2016 First Choice was accredited by The Joint Commission for both Ambulatory Care and Primary Care Medical Home Services, reflecting a years-long effort to implement the comprehensive, integrated, and patient-centered care service delivery model made possible by the growth in services and facilities described above. 

Today, First Choice Health Centers, Inc. is the primary safety net provider and principal federally qualified health center in Hartford and Tolland counties east of the Connecticut River, serving about one third of the of low-income residents in East Hartford, Manchester, and Vernon.  Since 2002, FCHC’s patient population has grown from under 3,000 to 20,755, recording 84,488 visits in 2016, with 12 (soon to be 13) fixed site service locations and the mobile dental van.  The full list of our services includes optometry, podiatry, HIV testing and treatment, SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral and Treatment) screening for substance abuse issues including smoking and alcohol, mental health, substance abuse, geriatrics, infectious disease, nutrition services, cooking, yoga and certified diabetes education classes;  fitness training at our on-site fitness center; 340B pharmacy services, Parents as Teachers pre-natal intervention, safe affordable housing, and community gardening.