Tucked away on an unassuming, hidden street that runs on a diagonal path, the Esperanza Health Center has been serving the Hunting Park neighborhood since December.
Located on 4417 N. Sixth St., the primary-care facility is a key component of the community-wide revitalization that has positively affected the area in the last few years.
The Hunting Park location is one of three Esperanza Health Centers based in the Philadelphia area, along with the Kensington and Fifth Street offices. All three locations are nonprofit Christian community health centers that primarily serve the Latino community of North Philadelphia.
Since the organization’s conception in 1989, its three locations have served more than 7,300 patients, who collectively visited the clinics nearly 36,000 times through 2011.
“Esperanza started as a second-floor walk-up on Fifth Street, near Lehigh [Avenue],” said Deborah Moss, a nurse practitioner who has been with Esperanza since 2010. “So, while it has grown significantly, its start was really focused on [the] Latino [community] because there was always a specific kind of need there.”
To address that need, Esperanza offers a dedicated team of 23 board-certified doctors, nurses, social workers and behavioral health consultants who speak Spanish fluently. This is an extremely important aspect of the clinic, as 85 percent its patients are Latino and 70 percent reported Spanish is their primary language.
“It makes a big difference to be able to speak to your doctor or your nurse in your language without having someone else there in those private moments,” Moss said. “It’s probably one of the things that make Esperanza unique.”
Another unique aspect is the center’s holistic approach to health care, which addresses the spiritual needs of patients, in addition to the more traditional fields of medicine, mental health, and social service. The unmistakable message of medical care through the Christian church is clearly acknowledged in Esperanza’s mission statement:
“Compelled by the love of God in Christ Jesus, in cooperation with the Church and others, Esperanza Health Center is a multicultural ministry providing holistic healthcare to the Latino and underserved communities of Philadelphia.”
Jesus Mago, who recently moved into the Hunting Park area about seven months ago from Connecticut, said he has been taken aback by the level that the Esperanza Center has shown him and his family.
“My son was in a bike accident [and hurt] his ankle and they were very caring,” Mago said.
“I like that it’s Christian-based. I like that the doctors are Christians and they prayed over my family [and] over my son,” Mago continued. “I see their humility and I just like the way I feel when I come here.”
Another key component that separates Esperanza from larger, North Philadelphia-based hospitals is its compassion towards the impoverished members of the community. According to the organization’s fact sheet over two-thirds of its patients receive Medicaid assistance, and a significant number of patients are completely uninsured.
“We [offer] a sliding [pay] scale,” receptionist Nate Rodriguez said. “All patients need is proof of income if they don’t have any insurance, and we work with them.”
Aside from its extensive medical care, Esperanza offers a wide range of physical activities and community-based events through its Community Health Promoter program. Since early 2010, the program has offered a biblical perspective on various healthcare topics.
“We work with churches and health fairs,” Moss said. “We have a whole team of people that work with HIV and AIDS patients. We have exercise classes, a kitchen to do cooking classes for kids – a lot of different things.”
Equipped with a full-sized gymnasium and exercise room with state-of-the-art equipment, the Hunting Park facility offers a great deal of health and wellness opportunities for patients and the community.
Christe Lee, who manages the newly opened café, which offers healthy and affordable cuisine for patients, employees and local residents, also teaches Zumba exercise classes and a variety of other physical fitness-based activities.
“We’re just looking for ways to increase physical activity,” Lee said. “That’s the best way I can interface with the patients.”
Patients who have frequented Esperanza for years have been magnetized toward the new facility. Germantown resident Sheila Greene-Thomas, who has been a patient for 10 years, has made the Hunting Park Office her new home, even though the Fifth Street and Kensington sites are closer to her residence.
“I’ve been coming to Esperanza for as long as I’ve been in Philly,” Thomas said. “Just by chance, my doctor was in the new building on the day of my appointment and I came here that day and I was like, ‘wow,’ and I’ve been here ever since.”
For all of those involved with the Esperanza Health Centers, the force that has drawn patients like Greene-Thomas through the door is not based on a coincidence in appointment scheduling.
It’s from a much higher power.