Making the healthy choice

Loc­al doc­tors have re­com­men­ded build­ing a new primary-care fa­cil­ity in the North­east to treat un­in­sured city res­id­ents or people with Medi­caid.

The Phil­adelphia Pub­lic Health Cen­ter on Cottman Av­en­ue.

Doc­tors who looked at the avail­ab­il­ity of med­ic­al care in the city have re­com­men­ded build­ing some kind of new primary-care fa­cil­ity in and around the Lower North­east.

Cur­rently, there are only a few that will treat un­in­sured city res­id­ents or people with Medi­caid. There are thou­sands of North­east res­id­ents with chron­ic ail­ments in­clud­ing dia­betes and high blood pres­sure who are not see­ing phys­i­cians, said An­je Van Ber­ck­elaer, who was one of the doc­tors who re­searched health care in the North­east.

The city’s Health Care Cen­ter No. 10 at Cottman Av­en­ue and Oak­land Street, which does see Medi­caid and un­in­sured pa­tients, is so over­taxed that new pa­tients must wait about eight months for an ap­point­ment, Phil­adelphia’s health com­mis­sion­er, Dr. Don­ald Schwarz, said dur­ing an Oct. 4 ses­sion at Friends Hos­pit­al at­ten­ded by about 50 people.

Be­fore the meet­ing, the health com­mis­sion­er said any­one who just walks in­to a health cen­ter will be seen but might have to wait all day.

Ber­ck­elaer, of Delaware Val­ley Com­munity Health Inc., and Dr. Dav­id Grande of the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania’s School of Medi­cine con­cluded that a new primary health-care cen­ter was needed after con­duct­ing a sur­vey of the North­east’s health-care needs for Healthy Phil­adelphia, a non-profit group.

They looked at the avail­ab­il­ity of primary health care in the North­east’s 19111 and 19124 ZIP codes as well as in 19020. Their sur­vey also led them to the con­clu­sion that a new primary-care fa­cil­ity should be built some­where in those three areas and that it should be con­veni­ent to pub­lic trans­port­a­tion. 

Schwarz, speak­ing privately be­fore the meet­ing, said such a fa­cil­ity would cost about $12 mil­lion, money the city doesn’t have and is not likely to get from the state or from the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. That would be the price tag without a “birth­ing cen­ter,” he said. Right now, there are no ma­ter­nity wards in the North­east.

The health com­mis­sion­er said he was look­ing for part­ners in build­ing a fa­cil­ity, but it is cru­cial that the com­munity would wel­come it.

The is­sue is more about where and only in part who, he said.

“I’m not go­ing to plop a health cen­ter some­where if people don’t want it,” he said.

Re­cent his­tory might in­dic­ate some wor­ries on that point.

Bustleton res­id­ents didn’t want a meth­adone clin­ic in their neigh­bor­hood. They came out in large num­bers in early 2009 to op­pose a plan to op­er­ate one, and, al­though there really were no leg­al bar­ri­ers, loc­al politi­cians lined up against it and the city with­drew the pro­pos­al. Right now, Holmes­burg and May­fair res­id­ents are bat­tling a pro­pos­al to place a meth­adone clin­ic on the 7900 block of Frank­ford Ave.

Ob­jec­tions in both cases didn’t fo­cus on the needs for the fa­cil­it­ies, but rather on the fact that re­cov­er­ing drug ad­dicts would be com­ing in­to the neigh­bor­hoods.

Not the same thing, Van Ber­ck­elaer said.

“I don’t ne­ces­sar­ily see a health cen­ter as hav­ing the same neg­at­ive im­age as a drug treat­ment cen­ter,” Van Ber­ck­elaer stated in an e-mail to the North­east Times last week. “Hav­ing a health cen­ter near home is gen­er­ally seen as an as­set. A short walk or drive to your fam­ily doc­tor or pe­di­at­ri­cian when your child is sick is far prefer­able to a long trip in­volving two or more buses.”

There is a def­in­ite need for more health care for people who live in and around the Lower North­east, Van Ber­ck­elaer said dur­ing last week’s meet­ing at Friends Hos­pit­al.

And there is a mis­match between the care that now is avail­able and the num­ber of people who need it. Cit­ing the study’s find­ings, which were first re­leased last month, the doc­tor said:

The North­east is home to about a quarter of the city’s pop­u­la­tion but has just three com­munity health cen­ters in its south­ern­most neigh­bor­hoods. (The re­search­ers in­cluded 19020 in their study, which in­cludes part of Lawn­crest.) Health Cen­ter No. 10 is in ZIP code 19149.

There are 33 com­munity health cen­ters serving the re­mainder of the city.

The num­ber of Phil­adelphi­ans without med­ic­al in­sur­ance has doubled in the past 10 years as the pop­u­la­tion of the North­east has be­come more di­verse.

Across the North­east, there are 18,000 people at high risk of not re­ceiv­ing the care they need, such as can­cer screen­ings, blood pres­sure medi­cines or asthma treat­ments. Half those people live in ZIP codes 19111, 19124 and 19120.

There are 72,000 people in those ZIP codes who have at least one chron­ic dis­ease such as dia­betes, heart dis­ease, asthma or high cho­les­ter­ol.

In the North­east, there are about 300 primary-care pro­viders in 186 prac­tices, but al­most 40 per­cent of those pro­viders don’t ac­cept Phil­adelphia’s largest Medi­caid plan. Those who do are con­cen­trated in 14 per­cent of the prac­tices, which in­clude the already busy com­munity health cen­ters.

“The need here in the North­east is real,” Schwarz said. “We want to try to fig­ure out what to do about that.” ••

For more in­form­a­tion about the Healthy Phil­adelphia sur­vey of med­ic­al care in the North­east, and about the non-profit group it­self, vis­it www.healthy­ph­il­

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215 354-3110 or

You can reach at

comments powered by Disqus