New Northeast Philadelphia city health center project clears last regulatory hurdle, slated for 2025 construction

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Northeast Philadelphia residents and lawmakers say the area has become a health care desert, with few affordable and low-cost options.

Nicole Leonard

A rendering of the upcoming health center in Northeast Philadelphia. (Courtesy of the Philadelphia Historical Commission)

A new city health center planned for a site on the Friends Hospital campus in Northeast Philadelphia gained final zoning approval in City Council on Thursday.

It paves the way for construction of a large public center that will offer adult and pediatric primary care and other services in an area of the city where there are few options for affordable and low-cost health care.

“We need this new health center on the campus of Friends Hospital to help those who are waiting too long for an appointment and make a dent in the health care desert that is Northeast Philadelphia,” said Marlyn Bradshaw, a registered nurse and current city health center patient.

The new building will be constructed along Roosevelt Boulevard and is slated for construction in 2025. The creation of a second, smaller new city health center near the Frankford Transportation Center is already underway.

The additional locations will join the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s existing city health centers, which provide primary care, pharmacy services, radiology, behavioral health counseling and social support.

Most people who get care at the centers have low incomes and are uninsured or underinsured, city officials said.

Health Center 10 is the only city-run facility currently serving the northeast region. Sarah Ennis, health department chief of staff, said wait times for new adult patient appointments have reached 12 months, and the wait time for new pediatric appointments is about six months.

 “These long wait times force patients to forgo care for chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease,” Ennis said, “leading to diminished ability to work, support their families, enjoy quality of life, which sadly leads to shortened lives.”

The new city health center at Friends Hospital is projected to serve about 30,000 people per year.

District 7 City Councilmember Quetcy Lozada, the prime sponsor of the zoning legislation, said this type of expanded access to health care services in the area is long overdue in order to close care gaps, reduce wait times and increase the health of the overall community.

“Making sure people have access to seeing a doctor was important, making sure residents are able to fill their prescriptions before walking out of the doctor’s office was extremely important,” Lozada said. “All of the opportunities that will be or could be available in a project like this one are opportunities to create a healthier seventh council district.”

City Council gave zoning approval for the project despite pushback from local civic, neighborhood and historical associations. Earlier this month, several people who live near the Friends Hospital campus told lawmakers that the location would pose safety issues for people traveling by public transportation or on foot. They also claimed that the historic nature and preservation of the location and structures on the property was a priority.

However, these concerns fell short of extensive community support for the new centers by other residents, nonprofit organizations, health providers, city department leaders and lawmakers.

“Every day counts when it comes down to people’s lives and well-being. And every day that passes without adequate health care, it’s a risk to our families, our friends and our neighbors,” said Mingchu Pearl Huynh, president and founder of the Northeast Philadelphia Chinese Association. “This is one of the best things you can do for our city, because our people really need it.”

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