At long last, Wilmington’s Riverside residents can walk down the block for medical care

Dr. Coker says staffers will teach people how to use technology to access virtual medical care from home. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Dr. Coker says staffers will teach people how to use technology to access virtual medical care from home. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Residents of the Riverside section in Wilmington inhabit what can only be called a health care desert. There’s no medical facility along the two-mile strip of Northeast Boulevard that bisects the area dominated by public housing units.

But a fledgling medical facility with a virtual component aims to help fill the longtime void in the low-income Black neighborhood.

The Kingswood Community Center, which serves as an anchor for residents, is playing host to the three-room office. Dr. Joan Coker, whose family is sponsoring the effort along with ChristianaCare, the state’s largest health care system, says it’s necessary for residents, especially those without transportation.

Dr. Joan Coker says it’s critical for people in Riverside to be able to access medical care by foot. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

“When you’re sick, the last thing you want to do is catch a bus or … get a neighbor to take you where you need to go,’’ Coker said. “But if you knew that you could have just walked across the street and gained access to health care to get a possible diagnosis, that would have been life-changing.”

The in-person care will be provided at Kingwood’s Coker Family Resource Center, where residents can also access social services. Patients can go there for physicals, blood pressure checks, vaccinations, refills, and more from a nurse practitioner.

They can also undergo procedures like an endoscopy, and have images shared virtually with a physician at Christiana Care.

“You can do a fair amount of endoscopic work, [for example] if someone wants to see the eardrum, to see if it’s perforated, popped out,’’ said Coker, an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

“And sometimes nurse practitioners can make that call for us. But then there are times where we may be able to go one step further, like zoom in just a little bit now, bring them right over here. Or let’s get that drained, that kind of thing.”

Logan Herring runs Kingswood, and is overseeing a massive rejuvenation project that includes razing the current public housing in Riverside and erecting 600 new homes. He says a key mission is bringing medicine into the community.

New homes are being built in Riverside and the existing ones will be razed. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

“It’s long overdue, where you can walk up to a doctor’s office inside a trusted entity like Kingswood or a trusted entity like ChristianaCare,’’ Herring said. “In our communities, Black communities, we’re a little reticent when you’re talking about going to the doctor.”

Dr. Janice Nevin, ChristianaCare’s CEO, says the whole idea is to “make it easier for people to access care when they need it, and one that fosters strong relationships between patients and their care team.”

DeShawn Jones, a Riverside resident with four children, said the new facility is a welcome addition. Residents without access to ready transportation must often delay or forgo appointments, which can exacerbate medical conditions, she said.

“So it’s very necessary,’’ added Jones.

Riverside resident DeShawn Jones says the medical facility is a welcome addition. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

To start out, the facility will be open 90 minutes a day on Tuesday and Thursday. But patients can also make virtual medical appointments from the privacy of their home, and the staff will train them in using the technology, Coker said.

“Do we see this as an endgame? I don’t think so,’’ she said. “I see it expanding in so many ways. What’s the next step? The next step is to fill in the schedule. And as the need increases, then we meet up with our partners in this industry” to decide the best way forward.

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