Dorchester Health Initiative

Our Background and History

Dorchester, with a population of 130,000 people, is home to over one-fifth of all Boston residents. The population has grown as local Bostonians seeking affordable housing in an ethnically diverse neighborhood have moved into its six communities. Dorchester has also become a destination for immigrants seeking communities similar to home. The current percentage of minority residents (80 percent vs. only 53 percent for Boston overall) reflects this cultural and ethnic diversity; however, because of language and cultural barriers, healthcare disparities, and other socioeconomic factors, this community is at increased risk for serious health and social problems.

Tufts Medical Center established the Dorchester Health Initiative (DHI) in 2004 to address health issues disproportionately affecting residents of the various Dorchester neighborhoods. Through the DHI, Tufts Medical Center provides grant funding to innovative programs addressing the priority health needs of the Dorchester community identified with the assistance of the DHI Advisory Committee, comprised of community stakeholders with experience in serving the needs of Dorchester residents.

Since its inception, program topics funded by DHI have included asthma, infant mortality, violence, cardiovascular disease, healthy lifestyles/habits, and nutrition. 

The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) reported in the "Health of Boston 2014-2015" report that the minority population in Boston is more likely to be living below the poverty level, more likely to be uninsured, and more likely to have inadequate health care. Additionally, the Health of Boston 2014-2015 report showed that minority residents are disproportionately affected by violence, major health problems like substance use disorder, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and infant mortality.

Dorchester-specific data supports the findings of the BPHC, and Dorchester, with its high minority population, consistently ranks among the highest for most of the more serious health issues among Boston’s residents.

Health issues that were identified as priorities by the DHI Advisory Committee are:

Youth Violence:

Violence, and youth violence in particular, have emerged as a critical health issue in Dorchester communities. For the period of 2005-2011, North Dorchester experienced an average incidence of 17.9 homicides per 100,000 residents, compared to Boston’s overall average of 7.9 per 100,000 residents for the same period, according to the 2012-2013 Health of Boston report. For the same period, South Dorchester experienced 19.4 homicides per 100,000 residents. Dorchester also includes five areas identified as “hotspots” by the Boston Police Department due to high levels of gang activity, where youth are particularly vulnerable to violence.

Substance Use Disorder:

Substance Use Disorder, specifically related to opioid use, is emerging as a health issue nationwide. It has also been prevalent across Boston communities and Massachusetts. According to the Boston Public Health Commission, the substance abuse emergency department visit rate (not including ED visits that resulted in hospital admissions) increased 30% from 2002 to 2009 in Boston overall.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester (BGCD) is focusing their activities on youth violence prevention through the SAVE program - Strategies Against Violence Everywhere.  One hundred and twenty-five youth between the ages of 9 and 18 are participating in skill building activities that will help them develop resiliency and empower them to choose the virtues of good citizenship, civility and peacefulness.  Program activities offer a range of opportunities for recreation, education, and mentoring which have been developed to create environments that are safe, fun, promote violence prevention and support the development of important relationships with caring adults.

Codman Square Health Center is enhancing its expanded substance abuse programming by adding a new position to its team.  The Substance Abuse Community Health Worker provides community outreach, education, assistance in connecting patients to local resources, and supporting patients to successfully access and navigate community services for prevention or treatment.  The new Substance Abuse Community Health Worker enables other team members such as therapists and primary care providers to practice at the top of their license. 

DotHouse Health is expanding Generation Next Academy programming to serve 200 youth between the ages of 12 -18 with behavioral health support around violence and addiction.  Among the enhanced and expanded services available are those that focus on health and wellness, workforce development and athletics which promote social, physical, emotional and financial health to avoid the risk behaviors for substance abuse and youth violence.  

Neponset Health Center provides education to 250 youth to promote skills building, resiliency and self-efficacy to help reduce the risk for substance abuse and the incidences and impact of adolescent date violence.  The health center is also developing center-based screening and referrals to care and provide early intervention for youth in need of substance abuse treatment. 

Salvation Army Kroc Center’s Bridging the Gap Between Youth and Community Services program is a life skills diversion program that provides safe alternatives to violent and risky behavior for court-involved youth between the ages of 12 and 18.  The program focuses on reducing the risk factors and increasing protective factors for youth at high-risk for experiencing violence in their lives, reducing the potential for youth to re-offend, and reducing the number of youth in the juvenile justice system by providing them with the tools to achieve a more promising future. 

Sportsmen’s Tennis & Enrichment Center’s Generating Excellent Mentors program provides intentional gender-specific out of school time mentoring, college prep and fitness education for children and youth between the ages of 4 and 18.  One special goal of the program is to create pathways for youth to benefit from a caring mentoring relationship to becoming mentors to younger peers.  DEUCE (for boys), Hey Sister (for girls) and Volley Against Violence provide academic support and college prep and fitness education respectively for participants.  

For more information contact:

Sherry Dong, Director
Community Health Improvement Programs
Tufts Medical Center
800 Washington Street, Box 116
Boston, MA 02111