Margaret Mauro remembered the day she sat outside the empty building on Nassau Road in Roosevelt.
The site for a new Roosevelt-Freeport Family Health Center had fallen through, and the nurse manager was one of many looking for another site to replace the cramped, crumbling one with the leaking roof on North Main Street in Freeport.
Countless times she had passed the building at 380 Nassau Rd., which for years had been little more than a steel frame. This, she thought, could be the spot.
Less than a year and a half later, her - and many others' - dreams have come true. In late January, six doctors, four nurses and 17 other staff members moved the half-mile to the brand new three-story building. The move culminated decades of efforts to open a modern public health center to serve its two largely minority communities.
'Cinderella' care, finally
The health center is one of four operated by NuHealth, which also includes Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow. NuHealth paid for the $11-million center with a mixture of the county's tobacco settlement funds, state grants and operating and capital funds. The facility will also house the Women, Infants and Children Program, a federally funded health and nutrition program, and NuHealth's Institute for Health Care Disparities, which studies health care for minorities and other underserved groups.
"This is like being Cinderella," Mauro said. "We were dressed in rags, and now we're dressed appropriately."
With 14 exams rooms, comfortable chairs in a light, airy waiting room, flat-screen TVs and nice art work, the center looks more like an upscale medical practice than a clinic - and that is just the feeling everyone affiliated with it is aiming for.
As in a private practice, patients are assigned their own doctors, not a revolving group of physicians. A full range of primary care is offered, from family planning to pediatrics to internal medicine. Anyone needing specialty care is referred to NUMC.
"We don't use the word 'clinic,' " Mauro said.
Lee Raifman, administrator for the four NuHealth clinics, said the Roosevelt-Freeport center is the fastest growing of the four facilities, with about two-thirds of the patients on Medicaid or Medicare.
For many in the community, the new 24,000-square-foot facility is a satisfying end to years of frustration.
A long time coming
"The other clinic reminded me of something from Afghanistan," said the Rev. Reginald Tuggle, pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in Roosevelt.
For years, Tuggle, head of the nonprofit Memorial Economic Development Corp., had been working with the county to open a new facility. In 1995 then-Nassau County Executive Thomas Gulotta broke ground for a new building that was supposed to open across the street from the old center in Freeport. But, Tuggle said, the county kept adding to the plans, and it became too expensive.
When Thomas Suozzi became county executive, the plans were scaled back, and again ground was broken in 2005, with the new center to open two years later, Tuggle said. The corporation raised $2 million short of the lowest bid, the pastor said.
At that point, NuHealth chief executive Arthur Gianelli decided to look at other sites and contacted the Town of Hempstead, which had a contract with a developer for the Nassau Road site. The health care corporation then bought the site for $4 million and developed it for another $7 million.
Gianelli called the new health center "a centerpiece of NuHealth's efforts to reform and revitalize health services . . . while at the same time serving as a catalyst for economic development in Roosevelt."
For Pauline Washington, 77, of Freeport who moved to Nassau County in 1958 and took all of her dozen children to the center, the new facility represents years of hard work. Washington, who has served on the center's advisory board since 1985 and now heads the panel, said the medical care had always been good but the building itself was woefully inadequate.
"Oh, it's beautiful," she said of the new building. "It's like the Taj Mahal compared to what we had before."