Kensington’s Esperanza Health Center eyes expansion, new wellness center

The front exterior of Esperanza Health Center's Kensington site

Esperanza Health Center's Kensington site. (Esperanza Health Center)

The Pew Charitable Trusts last week awarded $4 million in grant funding to the Esperanza Health Center, a nonprofit organization in North Philadelphia.

The center, which offers services ranging from primary to prenatal health care, has become a staple in Kensington.

The grant money — paid over five years — will help support the organization’s daily operations. Esperanza seeks to bolster its behavioral and community health staff to provide more peer counseling and group therapy for Kensington residents.

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Esperanza has a well-established program for substance use treatment, as Philly continues to combat the ongoing opioid crisis. With the grant, the nonprofit hopes to expand the program, with the goal of enrolling more than 2,000 patients annually.

The grant will also support Esperanza in adding two new medical teams and a dental team.

Beyond the grant funding, Esperanza is planning on opening a new community wellness center in the spring called “The CORE,” or the Community, Opportunity, Resiliency, and Equity wellness center.

The CORE will be a newly built, 24,000-square-foot community center adjacent to Esperanza’s current medical care facility on East Allegheny Avenue. The center, which will serve as a gymnasium, fitness center, and conference space for patients and residents, will be mostly free to the general public, with some amenities such as event space and the fitness center subject to fees. Esperanza estimates that over the first five years, the community center will be utilized by at least 12,000 Kensington-area residents.

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Susan Post, CEO of Esperanza Health Center, said that the opioid crisis isn’t the only community-wide health disparity facing Kensington. For many residents, access to housing, legal services, and good nutrition are among many stressors that hinder overall wellness.

“There’s social determinants of health that impact a person’s ability to be healthy,” Post said. “We see all these things — eating, being together, exercising, having social relationships — that are really important to people’s health. And so because of that, we decided that we would build this building.”

Since Esperanza opened in 1989, Post said, the city’s ongoing gun violence crisis has become a major issue to tackle. Opening the new community wellness center, she hopes, will provide a hub and place of safety for residents.

“There’s been a lot of trauma in all of Philadelphia with gun violence,” she said. “It’s especially harsh in Kensington. Raising children in areas where there’s so much trauma, things like that break kids and they break families.”

Esperanza Health Center’s mission is to provide comprehensive and inclusive health care to Kensington residents. More than 80% of patients are under the age of 64, and a majority are Hispanic/Latino. In 2018, the center served more than 14,000 children and adults through roughly 64,500 visits. Post said that moving forward, Esperanza wants residents to play a role in shaping the nonprofit’s direction.

“We want to have that be vital,” she said. “We don’t want to impose old ways of thinking on what the community might think they need.”

Kristin Romens, project manager at the Pew Fund for Health and Human Services, said that Esperanza has demonstrated success in improving access and inclusivity of its services. She said one of the health center’s strengths is tapping into community involvement and support.

“There’s a lot of beautiful things that are happening in Kensington,” she said. “There are still some strong community bonds. And I think particularly when you think about things like just having safe spaces in the neighborhood, I think that this kind of community hub idea is really important.”

She also said that the organization is a trusted community partner in Kensington, and the fabric of the solution to some of the neighborhood’s challenges.

“This is the beginning of a partnership with them,” she said. “We hope to have a long-term partnership in which we can offer support not just in dollars, but develop a business model to really plan for the sustainability of the growth that they achieve over the next few years.”

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