Gov. Baker Fulfills Promise to See Residency Graduates at GLFHC’s 17th Annual Gala

Jonathan Isaacson, center, chairman and CEO of The Gem Group, receives the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center 2022 Making a Difference Award. Presenting him with the award are GLFHC President and CEO Guy Fish, right, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. (Courtesy photograph.)

Wednesday night was a night of looking back, looking ahead and celebrating being together and with the governor as Greater Lawrence Family Health Center hosted its first in-person event in more than two years.

The 17th Annual Making a Difference Gala was hosted at the Andover Country Club with more than 400 guests to honor Johnathan Issacson, president and CEO of The Gem Group, a Lawrence-based promotional products company. Issacson was named as the Making a Difference award recipient for his company’s efforts during the pandemic.

“The Health Center, Lawrence General and Holy Family, among others, were on the front line. It was at that time I received an email from Eileen Reynolds at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, titled ‘Hail Mary.’ They were struggling with COVID, had run short of PTE and needed help. Assisted by a team of scientists from the University of Michigan, we pivoted. Two weeks after the governor asked that we close, we reopened. Over the next 24 months, Team Gemline quietly moved over 350 air shipments in more than 50 containers of high-quality PTE to a supply chain system that had come apart at the seams. It was a difficult time, but I will say with pride, that out of the almost 70 million units of PPE that we delivered, zero came back because we did not meet a standard,” Issacson said.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker fulfilled a promise he made four years ago to return to Greater Lawrence upon graduation of this year’s class of physicians at the Lawrence Family Medicine Residency program, based at the health center.  Baker was reflective during his keynote address, and appreciative to the residents of the Commonwealth for their actions during the pandemic.

“But, honestly you know, I don’t think sometimes when you’re in the middle of something like that you appreciate contextually how you’re handling it relative to the way a lot of other people are and, time and time again, I would get off these calls and say ‘people here really rose to the occasion and tried to find the kindness in what was an enormously challenging and high-anxiety period.’ I just thought every single day and I don’t want any of you—when I say this, my guys in the back will vouch for me on this, I say at practically every public event I do these days, I don’t want you to not appreciate just how very special the people of the Commonwealth were to each other over the course of the last couple of years because it did not happen everywhere. It did not happen everywhere and I want you to know that,” Baker told the crowd.

Baker took time to look back, but also pointed out it’s time to move forward on initiatives that were essentially put on hold due to COVID-19.

“There’s a whole bunch of things that, even as the vaccine industry therapies have been developed—all of that other stuff has been done, there’s going to be a whole bunch of things. My housing agenda flatlined for all intents and purposes. We got to get back and start cranking the crank again on housing production because, yeah, housing is a problem in Massachusetts. Housing was a problem in Massachusetts before the pandemic,” he said.

Dr. Guy Fish, president and CEO of GLFHC, talked about the need for access to additional behavioral health services in the Merrimack Valley.

“Access to care and care delivery is perhaps the most critical link in all of health care. In the telecom industry, people talk about the last mile of service delivery being the hardest, it’s access in health care. Getting those drugs, devices, diagnostics and behavioral health therapy to the individual. We know a lot about the diseases, the biology, but if we can’t get the access to people who need it, then what good is that?” He asked.

They also heard a personal story from Bernard Horne, who came to learn of GLFHC during the pandemic.

“So, I happen to be in the age group for getting that (vaccine) and I showed up at 700 Essex St. This was like a converted storefront. I mean, really? It struck me that this organization was doing everything that it possibly could to break down walls and doors to get the vaccinations out to people. It was just that it struck me that it being an incredible detail on how excellent the organization might be.”

The event raised more than $200,000 to help expand behavioral health services at the community health center, which has been providing health care to Merrimack Valley residents for more than 40 years.

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