By John Lynds
East Boston Neighborhood Health Center’s Winthrop Health Center (WHC) on Main Street welcomed the newest addition to its medical staff this month.
Dr. Mothusi Chilume began seeing patients last week at the WHC located a few doors down from Belle Isle Seafood as one of four providers that see patients regularly.
The full service health center that offers numerous services from dermatology to adult medicine to sick visits opened last year but has an emphasis on family medicine.
Dr. Chilume will serve as the health center’s full time physician.
“There’s no lead doctor and we have four providers that see patients on different days, but I will be the only full time physician here,” said Dr. Chilume. “I’d say a majority of our patients are from Winthrop, but there are more and more coming in from East Boston. There have been a lot of private practices that have closed down in recent years so a lot of these patients are looking for a new home.”
Dr. Chilume said he will be seeing patients of all ages from prenatal checkups, checkups for pregnant women to small children for their regular checkups to the area’s elderly patients.
Dr. Chilume came over to WHC from the Whittier Street Health Center over in Roxbury where he specialized in family medicine, as well as care for HIV patients, for the past six years.
“I received my undergraduate degree in Iowa after moving to the U.S. from Botswana,” said Dr. Chilume. “After graduating college I went to medical school in Grenada.”
After graduating from Medical School, Dr. Chilume went back to his home country of Botswana to practice medicine.
“I wanted to practice medicine in the developing world and get a sense of what it was like to be a doctor in Botswana,” he said. “It was really tough work. The need is huge and there are very few resources.”
It was there that Dr. Chilume gravitated to family medicine because he saw firsthand how the HIV and AIDS epidemic affected his country.
“At the time, it was very, very bad with HIV,” he said. “That’s part of the reason why I got interested in it. It has gotten much better in Botswana now, but there was a time when one in four adults were infected. I worked at the major referral hospital in Botswana and I’d say 60 percent of the rooms were filled with patients with advanced HIV.”
It’s a disease, said Dr. Chilume, that hasn’t gone away even if you don’t hear about it much anymore like one did in the 1980s and 1990s.
“At Whittier I was still seeing a lot of HIV patients, and it disproportionately affects minorities across the U.S.,” he said. “But the treatments have gotten a lot better, the medicines are more tolerable and it has become more of a chronic diseases.”
Dr. Chilume added that the CDC did away with separate testing for HIV to remove some of the stigma surrounding the disease.
“There was a time where it was done separately from your primary care and you needed to give consent,” said Dr. Chilume. “Do you need to give consent to be tested for diabetes? We wanted to get it back to primary care and be able to talk about it with patients.”
At WHC Dr. Chilume said that he has settled in nicely and is starting to build up his patient portfolio.
“It’s a very convenient system. We do not book our schedules two months in advance,” he said. “We keep our schedules open so we can see patients on the day that they call to be seen. Patients can pick me as their primary care physician, and because Ii’m new my panel is pretty open. But we really like to keep our schedules open for the times when a patient was seen at an emergency room and needs to follow up with us or there’s a sick visit.”
One thing that attracted Dr. Chilume to Boston was the network of health centers.
“Not a lot of cities have this type of network of community health centers,” he said. “Community health centers really make a big difference in neighborhoods by providing access to basic, and now years later, specialty care. We see a lot of patients who don’t know what it means to have primary care because the countries they came from don’t have those concepts like preventative care. It’s really a pleasure to be part of an organization that has a vision of expanding access every day.”