"Do Their Own Thing": Radical Health Care and the Fair Haven Community Health Center


Radical health reform movements of the 1960s inspired two widely adopted alternative health care models in the United States: free clinics and community health centers. These groundbreaking institutions attempted to realize bold ideals but faced financial, bureaucratic, and political obstacles. This article examines the history of Fair Haven Community Health Care (FHCHC) in New Haven, Connecticut, an organization that spanned both models and typified innovative aspects of each while resisting the forces that tempered many of its contemporaries’ progressive practices. Motivated by a tradition of independence and struggling to address medical neglect in their neighborhood, FHCHC leaders chose not to affiliate with the local academic hospital, a decision that led many disaffected community members to embrace the clinic. The FHCHC also prioritized grant funding over fee-for-service revenue, thus retaining freedom to implement creative programs. Furthermore, the center functioned in an egalitarian manner, enthusiastically employing nurse practitioners and whole-staff meetings, and was largely able to avoid the conflicts that strained other community-controlled organizations. The FHCHC proved unusual among free clinics and health centers and demonstrated strategies similar institutions might employ to overcome common challenges.

Publication Status


Category Tags

Healthcare; Social Services

New Haven Neighborhood

Fair Haven