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Updated: April 4, 2022

CENTRO to use federal $1M to make more efficient use of limited resources

Photo | Edd Cote CENTRO CEO Juan Gomez talks planning with strategic initiative consultant Scott Dennett.

With an extra $1 million in hand, thanks to federal funding, Worcester nonprofit CENTRO is planning to expand its reach further into the region’s immigrant and underserved communities, on the whole and in one area in particular: health care.

“For a very long time, we have been trying to chug along with the resources we have and with our limited infrastructure in terms of electronic health records,” said Juan Gomez, CENTRO president and CEO.

The funding came from the $1.5-trillion appropriations bill passed by Congress in March, and CENTRO’s slice was part of nearly $8 million that Congressman James McGovern (D-Worcester), chairman of the House Rules Committee, advocated for to help workforce development, arts and culture, and community development.

CENTRO intends to use the funding for a telehealth and electronic health records project as well as the purchase of new equipment.

“For an organization of our size, an effective electronic health record system can be used to store information about clients and persons served to be able to produce data about what impact we're having in the lives of those individuals and justify why we serve them,” said Gomez.

Gomez hopes the upgrade will result in more direct communication with hospitals and clinics.

Efficiency is paramount to CENTRO’s telehealth and electronic health records project. More than anything, the funds will allow the Worcester nonprofit to maximize its staff's time, Gomez said.

“Our current electronic health records are very cumbersome and difficult to navigate,” Gomez said. “Right now, instead of spending more time in the field making sure we are providing effective services, we are limited in the number of individuals we can serve because we are so busy inputting data.”

CENTRO quick facts

Serving the underserved

CENTRO was founded in 1977 by Miguel Bafaro, whom Gomez lovingly referred to as a cranky old priest. Gomez maintains great reverence for Bafaro.

CEO Juan Gomez delivers remarks at the March 24 press conference celebrating the $1 million in federal funding.

“He actually changed his name to Miguel because of his fondness for the Latino community,” Gomez said. “Father Miguel was Italian, from Worcester, and in the ’60s and ’70s he was sent off to Latin America on missionary work. When he came back, he saw the limitations and the needs of the Latino community.”

Bafaro worked with a number of recognized community leaders like Luis Perez as well as Hector and Lidia Reyes, to create Centro Las Americas. The original mission included three tiers.

“First, to be a spot for all Puerto Ricans that were living in Worcester at the time where they could celebrate, meet, share information, and have important community discussions,” said Gomez. “Second, to be a conduit for helping the Puerto Rican community transition into Worcester and make it their home. And third, to be a repository of Puerto Rican and Latino culture, and share it with the city at large.”

CENTRO’s demographics have grown beyond the Puerto Rican community to serve all immigrant groups and other historically underserved populations, said Gomez. By his most recent estimation, 62% of CENTRO’s current clients are of Latino descent.

An investment in health

CENTRO’s gross margin budget has not previously allowed for a substantial investment in telehealth or an electronic records system. The new federal funding will not only reduce the cost of providing health care, Gomez predicted it will reduce the number of hospital stays and the length of stays.

Like most healthcare and human service providers, CENTRO is navigating a staffing shortage.

“We have to do everything we can to effectively train and work to retain the staff we have,” Gomez said. “Altogether, this funding is going to allow us to do that in a very effective way thanks to God and to people like Congressman McGovern and Seven Hills President … David Jordan.”

Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Worcester) announces the $1-million federal award to CENTRO in a press conference on March 24.

Jordan congratulated CENTRO on receiving the community project funding award, praising the organization’s efforts to, “Enhance their electronic health records systems, which in turn will better assist them in supporting the many health and human service clients they serve throughout the year.”

McGovern visited CENTRO on March 24 to announce and celebrate the line item award with the organization’s staff.

“I fought hard for the inclusion of community projects in this appropriations bill to deliver vital support to worthwhile causes,” McGovern said in a press release.

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