Immigrant health group Puentes de Salud opens center in South Philly

    Listen
     Puentes de Salud Health and Wellness Center at 17th and South streets aims to provide low-cost primary care and a range of educational and social services to the city’s Latino immigrants. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Puentes de Salud Health and Wellness Center at 17th and South streets aims to provide low-cost primary care and a range of educational and social services to the city’s Latino immigrants. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    A health initiative serving Philadelphia’s growing Latino immigrant community finally has a home base.

    Puentes de Salud, or Bridges of Health, has been around since 2006, mainly providing primary care and education services to uninsured immigrants.

    Despite a growing community — nearly 30,000 people, by some estimates — Puentes’ clinic operation has been limited to a few days a week. The location has also jumped around.

    That’s about to change.

    The nonprofit is opening a health and wellness center at Penn Medicine’s Rittenhouse Campus, 17th and South streets.

    “It’s like a dream come true,” said Susana Pimental, a longtime community health volunteer who’s organizing financial literacy classes in the new space.

    Having one central space with expanded clinical hours, bilingual services and other education programs will make it easier for people to connect with care and stay healthy, she said.

    Puentes de Salud began when doctors at Penn, who were seeing many uninsured immigrants show up at the emergency room with serious health problems, decided to start the clinic.

    “Women didn’t have access to even routine prenatal care and were showing up on our labor floor when they were having a complication that could have been prevented,” said co-founder Dr. Jack Ludmir, who also chairs obstetrics and gynecology at Pennsylvania Hospital.

    Along with the doctors, a network of volunteers, students and other health workers have helped offer services.

    “It’s not just about medicine. I think we’re more than that,” says Pimental. “What we’re trying to do is empower our community.”

    Beyond the cultural and socioeconomic factors, Ludmir said, some immigrants may lack insurance due to their immigration status. Despite a major nationwide insurance expansion, the Affordable Care Act only allows people who are in the country legally to enroll in coverage. Meanwhile, federal funding to hospitals caring for the uninsured is decreasing.

    Ludmir wants to stay out of the politics of immigration, but he views Puentes de Salud as a model for improving community health and reducing preventable problems.

    Private fundraising and donations from Penn made the new space possible

    It opens Monday.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.