Don’t let objections to chosen site delay new health clinics in Northeast Philly – by John Dodds, for The Inquirer

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Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. The benefits of having a new health facility in a neighborhood that desperately needs one outweigh concerns over the facility’s location.

by John Dodds, For The Inquirer Published Mar. 14, 2024, 6:00 a.m. ET


If you’re lower-income, live in Northeast Philadelphia, and have a health concern, you’re often out of luck.

That’s because, for years, the neighborhood has had only one city-run health center for roughly 300,000 residents. And since it’s become home to an influx of lower-income residents and those from refugee and immigrant communities, many of whom lack private insurance, the situation has become more dire.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health has been planning for years for two new health centers in the Northeast. And I think it’s a very good thing.

The health department found the sites after years of searching for the right locations. One will be at the Frankford Transportation Center, and the other on the grounds of Friends Hospital on Roosevelt Boulevard.

The new health centers will be large enough to accommodate over 40,000 patients. Currently, the Northeast has only one city health center, located on Cottman Avenue, near Bustleton Avenue. There — at Health Center 10 — it takes roughly 10 months to get a new appointment for an adult. There are dozens of city and federal health centers located throughout Philadelphia, but only three in the entire Northeast (one city-run, two federal), even though it is one of the most populous neighborhoods in the city.

Outside of the Northeast, most of the public health clinics have enough capacity to offer treatment in a reasonable amount of time.

During the last 40 years, Philadelphia’s demographics have changed. Center City, University City, and surrounding neighborhoods have seen an influx of wealthier families. The Northeast has become home to one of the highest concentrations of people who immigrate to Philadelphia. What’s more, poverty levels have grown significantly: Since 1990, the number of people living in poverty in Mayfair, for instance, has grown by more than 400%.

A 2018 review of access to primary care by the Department of Public Health found that the Lower Northeast section of the city, in particular, lacks providers, making it a “health-care desert.”

Some residents have raised concerns over demolishing the historic building on the Friends Hospital campus, which is nearly 170 years old. Nobody wants to see our city’s history erased, but in this instance, I feel the benefits of having a new health facility serving tens of thousands of people per year in a neighborhood that desperately needs one outweigh the downsides of tearing down the existing structure.

While the Friends site (the largest of the two proposed health centers) will provide abundant parking, some critics have expressed concern that anyone taking public transit will have to cross the busy Roosevelt Boulevard. However, as part of its “Route for a Change” program, the city has committed to making the crossing at Langdon Street (near Friends Hospital) safer for pedestrians. What’s more, red-light cameras on the Boulevard have been credited for reducing crashes involving pedestrians by 50%.

If patients still don’t feel safe, they can choose the other location at the Frankford Transportation Center, which is easily accessible by bus.

The greater danger, to me, would be going back to the drawing board to find a new location. Even if the current plan proceeds, the new facility won’t be open until next year at the earliest. If the city has to spend more time scouting a new location, that could take years — at which point, there may no longer be money in the budget to build it. Meanwhile, residents suffer from the lack of health centers the city could be building right now.

The demand for new Northeast health centers has never been greater. The sooner we build the

new centers, the sooner people will be able to access the lifesaving health care they need.

John Dodds is director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, which works with laid-off Philadelphians, many of whom lose their insurance upon layoff and need the low-cost health care offered at city health centers.

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