For 32 years, Dr. Joseph Pongonis has been keeping the families of Holmesburg physically healthy. Now he’s working on the economic health of the neighborhood.
Pongonis recently opened a new 15,000-square-foot addition to his family practice on Frankford Avenue, just north of Rhawn Street, and has orchestrated the renovation and redevelopment of an additional 32,000 square feet of medical office space along the avenue. The total investment will amount to about $7 million by year’s end.
The doctor’s mission is to create the Northeast’s first “fully integrated medical center” with urgent care, primary care, specialty care and physical therapy all offered on a three-acre tract of formerly commercial real estate. He’s calling it The Center for Medical Excellence.
Pongonis has also brought a cardiologist, a family dentist, a pharmacy and a blood-work lab to the block. Separately, Harry J. Lawall & Son, specializing in prosthetics and orthotics, recently renovated its medical offices on both sides of the street.
“This is turning into the medical mall here on the 8000 block of Frankford Avenue,” Pongonis said.
The doctor has spent his entire career helping the people of Holmesburg. A Rhawnhurst native, Pongonis, 61, graduated from Father Judge High School and St. Joseph’s University. He then graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and set up his practice in familiar territory, the former Schwartz Furniture Store at 8019 Frankford Ave.
He’s been the physician to generations of local families.
“I am treating the grandparents, parents, the children and the children’s children now,” he said. “One thing about family medicine is you get those relationships with families that are really gratifying to the physician.”
Pongonis has long exercised a keen interest in the politics of medicine, too. He has served as chairman of the Philadelphia Medical Society and on the board of the Pennsylvania Medical Society. He’s tried to remain on the forefront of the effort to make medical care more affordable to patients.
“There’s been a lot of talk of mechanisms to improve patient care while reducing costs,” he said. “The model always has been an emphasis on hospitals and specialty care and that has proven to be very costly.”
The new Frankford Avenue medical center will employ the integrated care model with a full range of services essentially under one roof. Patients with non-life threatening injuries can opt for urgent care rather than a trip to a hospital emergency room and pay perhaps one-third the costs without sacrificing quality.
Though not operational yet, Pongonis’ urgent care facility will be open about 100 hours per week.
The new primary care center will include about 10 doctors and be known as EPIC Physicians Group, with “EPIC” representing “excellence in primary care.” Previously, Pongonis practiced with three other family doctors.
About 15 specialists will comprise the center’s new specialty care unit on the second floor of the newly constructed office building. The space is next door to Wells Fargo bank and is on the site of a former realty office operated by Francis P. Rueter. Pongonis had the old building demolished.
Progress Physical Therapy occupies much of the first floor under the direction of another Judge graduate, John Mohollen. The center has a large fitness area, a hand therapy department and an Endless Pool for aquatic therapy.
The entire medical complex will keep about 250 people employed. The doctor’s own nephew, Sonnie Pongonis, oversaw construction through his company, Pongonis Property Management and Construction.
“Most of the people we hire are directly from the neighborhood,” Dr. Pongonis said.
Some interior spaces of the new building aren’t quite finished yet. The build-out is expected to wrap up by the new year. A grand opening health fair will likely happen next spring.
But the doctor and his colleagues have already been receiving positive feedback from the community. The local civic association has been supportive, Pongonis said, while neighboring merchants have been getting more visitors.
“The local businesses have already thanked me for the increase in volume from our activities,” Pongonis said. “They’ve said it’s an improvement to the block and the entire Holmesburg area.” ••