Hartford Cathedral Center opening new space for free health care, food pantry, ‘ a remarkable transformation’
By Ed Stannard
Sep 19, 2022 at 3:38 pm
The Malta House of Care, whose van has offered primary health care to residents of Hartford and East Hartford since 2006, will begin welcoming its clients to a new, renovated, state-of-the-art site on the campus of the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford on Tuesday.
The Cathedral Community Center also will offer expanded space for the cathedral’s food pantry, which has already served more meals in 2022 than in all of 2021, according to Archbishop Leonard Blair.
Housed in a former church hall, the center has been “gutted, renovated and brought up to standard” to provide comprehensive primary care to the low-income population in the Asylum Hill neighborhood, said Vicki Veltri, executive director of Malta House, on Monday. Until now, Malta House has offered care primarily through its medical van, which serves patients at the cathedral as well as at two sites in Hartford and East Hartford, she said.
Blair said that since 2006, 70,000 free visits by uninsured clients have been served by Malta House. The new site is “just a remarkable transformation that’s been made possible through the generosity of many people,” he said.
“You need to try to get people where they are,” Veltri said. “People have limited ability for transportation. … So I think the location is going to serve the Asylum Hill neighborhood, which is the predominant neighborhood that we serve, very, very well. But it opens up the van to go to other places.”
The clinic “offers comprehensive primary care services and, I will say, longitudinal too, because we have patients that have stayed with us for a long time,” Veltri said. “Providers have been committed for a long time. So we operate with a small staff, but we also have the good fortune of having about 40 volunteers who also work with us to provide this care to our community.”
The volunteers include doctors, nurses, physician assistants and nurse practitioners, among others.
“It’s a tremendous group of people, very committed to helping people who cannot get coverage any other way,” Veltri said. “We’re looking at a population that cannot qualify for Medicaid or other coverage because either their status as immigrants or they don’t qualify for another reason for insurance coverage.”
Most patients are “very low income,” Veltri said, and represent about 30 languages and more than 50 countries of origin. There are Spanish and Portuguese translators on staff, “and I’m going to work on that as well, because we have a pretty large contingent of Portuguese-speaking patients” from Brazil and Portugal who make up a significant community in Hartford, she said.
Malta House also has been serving patients from Ghana at its East Hartford van stop on Mondays at St. Rose Roman Catholic Church, 33 Church St. The van also goes to St. Augustine’s Church, 10 Campfield Ave., Hartford, on Thursdays.
At other times, patients have been screened in the cathedral’s basement and then brought to the van for care.
Veltri said Malta House also had used a site on Woodland Street occasionally, “but it was smaller than our needs. We needed more space. And we needed to modernize it.”
The center has five exam rooms and private intake areas and is “much more, I think, amenable to our patients, who I think will see it as a beautiful site for them to come to for their health care,” Veltri said. Also, the new site “kind of frees us up a little bit to get some more neighborhoods with our van,” she said.
The center will also offer OB/GYN services, COVID-19 and flu clinics, behavioral health care and specialty days for dental, vision and cardiology care.
Malta House is run under the auspices of the Order of Malta, a lay Catholic order that offers care to the poor, Blair said. ” I think we offer a unique service and we’ve been around for a long time and we want to continue doing it and this clinic just helps us expand it,” Veltri said.
The food pantry, run by members of the cathedral parish, also will be able to serve more of those in need, Blair said.
“In 2022 alone, over 11,000 people from the Greater Hartford area were served at the cathedral food pantry, and there are more families and individuals in the first eight months of 2022 than in all of 2021,” he said.
He said the pantry will be able to expand its hours and be able to offer blood pressure screenings, nutrition counseling and ease food delivery to the homebound.
“The food pantry also helps people moving from homelessness or shelters to apartments, including women coming from domestic abuse shelters, and men and women coming out of incarceration,” Blair said. “Those things also wind up coming under the sights of the food pantry. … And they also give non-food items like personal hygiene things, diapers, clothing, housewares.”
Blair said 41 tons of food have been received from Connecticut Foodshare over the years. “So having this greatly enhanced food pantry at the cathedral will be a tremendous boon to the charity and fellowship that we want to extend to the local community,” he said.
“I don’t think people are aware, even our Catholic people or the wider community, of just how much service is extended through the Cathedral of St. Joseph,” he said. “And this new facility, thanks to the generosity of many people, is going to make it even greater.”
Ed Stannard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org