Al Dia: Philadelphia Health Centers Offer Services to the Latino Community

A nurse at Maria de los Santos.]

Staff work at Esperanza Health Center

Multiple health centers offer a variety of care to Latino communities across Philadelphia literally tending to the body, mind and soul.

These organizations offer their services in both Spanish and English. Further, these organizations offer their services to the uninsured and under-insured in addition to those with medical insurance, providing health care services for everyone in need.


Congreso is a multi-service organization. With nearly fifty programs focusing on education, employment and health, Congreso has recently opened a federally qualified health center in partnership with the Philadelphia Public Health Management Corp. This new partnership enables Congreso to more services to the community.

Waleska Maldonado, the senior vice president of health at Congreso, has a very diverse team of people working with her.  Half of them focus on health promotion and the other half focus on health care. The health promoters focus on programming such as counseling, domestic violence, parenting skills for young mothers and counseling to parents who have children with chronic diseases. In addition the health care services include programming around behavior health, drug and alcohol counseling plus addressing various needs of people living with HIV and AIDS.

In this economic environment marked by decreases in funding, Congreso has had to make some tough decisions like closing down some of their services and offering fewer services. Maldonado said: “One of the things we have been able to do is look at our structure and become very strategic in terms of how do we design services that have a continuity.  For example, if we were to lose one service today, we think about how we can complement it with another service that already exists so that the community is not left without.”

Congreso believes in the model that if the clients do not come to group, it goes to the clients. “We do a lot of outreach and we do a lot of services in nontraditional settings,” Maldonado said. “We actually have mobile vehicles that we use to go into high risk neighborhoods around the area and we conduct a lot of HIV testing. We do a lot of referrals that we use to identify people in the streets to a health center. We are able to catch people where they are and bring them to Congreso not only for social care but for health care as well.”

In the past, Congreso has been known for their ability to provide great social services. One of the things that they seek to do in the near future is expanding their healthcare arm to provide needs for the community.

Maldonado added: “The good thing about our status is that we are a federally qualified health center.  The way that that works is that anyone, regardless of their ability to pay, will be able to get service. If they are uninsured, we are able to serve them.”

Joes Rivera, vice president of Healthcare Services at Congreso, leads programs that provide mental health services, drug and alcohol services and case management for adults and children. The group also offers primary care services through a health center and has programs for HIV and AIDS that deal with prevention, education, testing and case management and support groups.

Rivera says, “We continue to constantly monitor our programs and see where we can improve them.”  He adds, “We do it all here, and we do it really well.”

The latest project of the health center that was started in December is now being marketed both internally and externally to make sure that the community is aware of the new health center and that community members know it is accessible to them.

“We’re very diverse and every day,” Maldonado said. “You get to learn a lot about what is happening in this community.”

For more information, please visit Congreso’s website.


A nurse checked information at Maria de los Santos.

Maria de los Santos offers adult medicine, pediatrics, ob-gyn, dental and behavioral health. Operating the day-to-day services is Zoe Laureano, health center manager of Maria de los Santos. “We see everyone.” Laureano said. “We don’t restrict it.”

The new health center includes 58 patient examination rooms, 13 patient restrooms, a larger community room, a prescription drug dispensary, and other amenities for patients and staff. With this new facility, Maria de los Santos will continue to be the largest provider of primary healthcare to Latinos in Philadelphia, serving as a bilingual, bi-cultural medical “home” for generations of Latino residents.

Emily Glover, director of operations for Delaware Valley Community of Health, supports the general operations at all six locations of Santos.  “I think like most health care providers nationwide that we’ve faced a lot of struggles.” Talking about the struggles of this economy, Glover said: “With uninsured rates increasing due to economic forces and pressures, we’ve had a lot of difficulties with our health centers. Luckily we are still doing well and our numbers continue to increase, but we do see some restrictions and concerns in regard to state reimbursements. We have a mix of uninsured and insured, and having a great mix helps keep our health centers open so that we can help serve anyone who needs healthcare.”

Right now, Maria de los Santos is rolling out electronic health records at all of its sites to help expedite care, improve clinical safety and clinical outcomes.

Emily Glover, Steven Tyson and Zoe Laureano work at Maria de los Santos.

The organization also does a lot of collaborations and was lucky enough last year to be funded by Susan Komen for the first year. Steven Tyson, the director of communications and business development for Maria de los Santos, noted that there is such a great need for Latinas to get mammograms. Tyson said, “Collaborating with Fox Chase Cancer Center and Kimmel Cancer Center, we have someone here who actually goes with the women and translates for them and escorts them to their appointments and their follow ups. We’ve exceeded all of our goals last year so we were refunded this year to continue that work.”

Tyson pushed the importance of individual donations and how much the health center depends on funding from public and private sources.  “We really do a lot with the community,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for and that’s why we’ve grown so quickly and continue to grow and our numbers keep growing up.”

For more information, please visit Maria de los Santos’ website.


Esperanza combines services to the community in North Philadelphia to also ministering to their spiritual needs.  Serving the undeserved and underprivileged community, Esperanza accepts health insurances and takes pride in providing services of excellence to all the people in need of medical and healthcare services.

It provides programs for children and adults, including diabetes, hypertension, nutrition, behavioral counseling and social services.

Susan Post, executive director at Esperanza, said she is very excited about the future and the opening of a new building that offers healthcare to 7,000 patients who have no medical provider.

Susan Post serves as executive director of the Esperanza Health Center.

All of the providers speak Spanish and English which is a very hard barrier to get over in the community for those who speak Spanish primarily and need their health care to be given to them in their language.

With the new building, Esperanza has added a wellness component so it will have a gym, classrooms, a fitness center, a teaching kitchen and a healthy snack bar.

“We are trying to engage the community in healthy activities outside the walls of the exam room so that they can come here and participate in their health before they actually need a doctor.” Post said. “And, of course, we also want to provide the medical care along the way.”

Before the new facility opened in December, Esperanza was already offering a program for health promoters.  The group was training local people in different health areas so that they could provide health education and promote health in their own spheres of influence in their communities.

A total of 120  graduates are promoters working out in their communities. Esperanza has plans to expand and just offered new positions for new providers.

“Esperanza has two main barriers that we are trying to overcome in healthcare in North Philadelphia,” Post said. “One is the financial barrier. That’s why we want to make it affordable. We take Medicare and also take care of the uninsured and try to give them affordable rates to come. The second is the language barrier. We want to make sure that all the Spanish speakers in Philadelphia are able to receive health in their own language. Our primary concern is that we take care of people in need.”

Sandra Lopez, head nurse at Esperanza, said: “Esperanza is a different kind of provider in the community. We are not only interested in the physical health of the person but also in their spiritual health. We are an important member of the community and try to be present in the life of the community. I am very proud to be part of the Esperanza family.”

For more information, please visit Esperanza’s website.


Puentes de Salud is a nonprofit organization that promotes the health and wellness of South Philadelphia’s rapidly growing Latino population through high-quality health care, innovative educational programs and community building. The organization combines health and wellness services to better serve the community and address the conditions in which people grow, learn, live, work and age.

With plans to expand, Annette Silva, community nurse liaison, said that the community definitely deserves an expansion.

Puentes de Salud offers a clinic, tutoring programs and mammograms. The group also handles immigration issues and collaborates with the health department and elementary schools. “Our strength comes in our ability to collaborate with other agencies,” Silva said.

The organization also offers a women’s health clinic that handles women’s and children’s health services, Latina community health services and gynecology services.

For more information, please visit Puentes de Salud’s website.

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