Northeast Philadelphia residents, advocates call on city to expedite plans for 2 new public health centers

Philadelphia city leaders announced plans to build two new public health centers near the Frankford Transportation Center and Friends Hospital.

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Frankford Transportation Center

One of two planned city health centers will be built across the street from the Frankford Transportation Center. (Screenshot / Google Maps)

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When Philadelphia officials announced last year that two new city health centers would open in Northeast Philadelphia, many residents were thrilled. They say this part of the city has become a “health care desert” for affordable and low-cost services.

“I was very excited to think, finally, the city is doing something right,” said community leader Mingchu Pearl Huynh, president and founder of the Northeast Philadelphia Chinese Association.

But these two new health centers may not open for another couple years as the projects move through a slow development process. Supporters also fear that opposition against the health centers from some residents could delay or derail plans even more drastically.

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Supporters are making a renewed push for the city to move forward with plans and find ways to expedite the process.

“We have hundreds of thousands of people who need more health care. It’s not a small matter,” Huynh said. “It’s been so much work that we’ve spent on this. We don’t want to miss this opportunity.”

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health runs eight city health centers which offer primary and some specialty care, including routine medical checkups, prenatal care, behavioral health services, disease treatment and vaccinations. These centers treat patients regardless of their insurance status. Uninsured patients are charged small out-of-pocket fees for visits, treatment and other care.

Many centers offer language interpretation services for non-English speakers, which Huynh said has become crucial to a growing number of immigrants moving to the area.

Northeast Philadelphia currently has only one such facility, Health Center 10. Estimated wait times for new patient appointments have ballooned to 12 months.

The two new health centers the city announced last year were part of a plan to address this growing demand for health care services. One would be built across from the Frankford Transportation Center.

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The second one is proposed for a site on the Friends Hospital campus in Lawncrest, which is already home to a psychiatric hospital, a long-term residential program for people with serious behavioral health needs, and one of the city’s Crisis Response Centers.

Zoning has been approved for the Frankford Transportation Center site, which is part of a larger redevelopment project led by the Frankford Community Development Corporation. Mixed-income housing is planned for above the new health center.

While city health officials and community leaders initially hoped to break ground this summer, Frankford CDC commercial corridor manager Ellie Devyatkin said construction is now slated to begin in early 2025 as the corporation hopes to first secure low-income housing tax credits for additional funding.

Zoning approval for the second health center on the Friends Hospital campus is pending, city health officials confirmed. District 7 Councilmember Quetcy Lozada will host public community meetings this month for input on the sites:

  • Wed., Feb. 21 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Juniata Boys and Girls Club, 1225 E. Cayuga St.
  • Tues., Feb. 27 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church of Olney, 5435 N. 3rd St.

Not all residents are eager to see these new centers open their doors. At a similar community meeting held in November, John Dodds said some people living near Friends Hospital had expressed concerns about the proximity of the new health center to private residences and public transportation accessibility and safety along Roosevelt Boulevard.

Dodds, director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, said the ultimate priority should remain on expanding access to health care in a way that meets the needs of neighborhoods. Many have become more culturally and ethnically diverse while others have seen growing rates of poverty.

“Yet, the services are not there for these people,” Dodds said. “We think it’s good public policy. If a few neighbors don’t like it, we’re sorry about that, but it needs to happen.”

The proposed new health center near Friends Hospital would serve an estimated 30,000 patients per year and be located close to the SEPTA bus stop at Langdon Street, according to the Department of Public Health. It is currently scheduled to be built in 2025.

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