On weekday mornings it is not uncommon for every waiting room seat in Health Center #10, Philadelphia’s northernmost city-run health clinic, to be filled or for a line to stretch beyond the building’s entrance at 2230 Cottman Ave. It’s this scene that has sparked Healthy Philadelphia, a nonprofit devoted to increasing health care accessibility in the city, to start a campaign to build a new center in Northeast Philadelphia.
“We looked at the Northeast and the number of health care providers and the number of people who have been unable to get care and we identified that that is the area of the city least well-served by our health care system,” said Healthy Philadelphia Executive Director Carol Rogers.
Healthy Philadelphia recently collaborated with the University of Pennsylvania to conduct a comprehensive survey of healthcare in the Northeast. The area, which broadly encompasses 10 zip codes, is home to approximately 350,000 people or 23 percent of the city’s population. Residents lean heavily on Health Center #10 – one of eight in the city – for a variety of needs.
“They’re overrun with patients, they’re very crowded,” said Angela Green, who has been a patient at the center for years.
From dentist appointments to nutrition counseling to HIV testing, the center provides many vital services to residents. The wait time, however, for a new patient appointment can reach up to nine months.
“Well, basically in the morning if you want to walk in, like if you’re in severe pain and you can’t afford to go to the emergency room, [the line] starts outside,” Green said.
Through a postcard-writing campaign to city council members, Rogers received hundreds of testimonies of health care inadequacies.
“For example, if you’re in the Northeast and you get out of the hospital there and you’re told, ‘Well, call the health center,’ and you call the health center and the health center says ‘We can’t see you until September,’ that’s a serious problem,” Rogers said.
According to the University of Pennsylvania study, many in the area are at high risk for serious and chronic illnesses, making long wait times potentially devastating. High risk patients, coupled with the high number of uninsured citizens in the Northeast, further adds to the center’s large workload.
“If you don’t [have insurance,] this would be the preferred place to come,” Green said.
The number of uninsured Philadelphians has almost doubled from 6.7 percent in 2000 to 11.4 percent in 2011, according to the University of Pennsylvania study. With 38 percent of physicians in the area no longer accepting new patients on Medicaid, Health Center #10’s services are in high demand as the center only charges a small fee for the uninsured that varies with family size and income.
“I lost my job and I don’t have income coming in so this was the only thing I could afford,” said patient Sharon Cooper.
Cooper switched to the city clinic from a private practice seven months ago and has since been satisfied with the service despite the crowds. Like Cooper, patient Victoria Hudson was drawn to the center because of its affordability.
“Right now I don’t have any insurance and this is, I would say, a blessing,” Hudson said.
Hudson, who is diabetic, must take two buses to get to the center from her home. Transportation has been an issue for many Northeast residents.
“I have heard from residents that this is an issue that there are not enough health centers locally that are easily accessible within our neighborhood,” said Olney resident and North Fifth Street Revitalization Project Community Engagement Coordinator Stephanie Michel. “But the health centers that are in the area are Einstein, which is a bus ride away, but it takes a while for people to get there if they need immediate help.”
Despite the obstacles many face in getting timely care, many patients expressed gratitude for the quality of service that the health center staff provides in such overwhelming circumstances.
“They have a system where they try to work as quickly as possible so you don’t have to stand too long in the lines,” Hudson said.
Such sentiments reflect the positive outcomes that may occur once healthcare needs are met.
“We know that if people get appropriate primary care it is certainly much better for our city,” Rogers said. “When people are able to be active members of society, when they’re healthy and can go to work it’s certainly much healthier for our neighborhoods.”
Rogers plans to promote awareness about the campaign by continuing to visit community hubs in the Northeast and making sure that elected officials stay informed.
“We will be very active in the budget hearings,” Rogers said. “We will be at city council when the health commissioner makes his address and we will continue to work with city council members and anybody who’s interested in providing the kind of services we think are needed.”