Esperanza: A lifeline of health for Latinos in Philadelphia
Esperanza Health Center has changed the way health is addressed in the most underserved communities in the city.
For more than 30 years, Esperanza Health Center has been committed to providing access to affordable, high-quality health care and wellness services for the Spanish-speaking community in North Philadelphia.
It began with the vision of Dr. Carolyn Klaus, a Philadelphia family physician who wanted to help the most underserved patients. She found that it was the Spanish-speaking communities in North Philadelphia that had the fewest doctors and available health services.
“Her idea was to try to reduce any barriers to care, including financial, cultural and language,” said Susan Post, executive director of Esperanza Health Center.
In 1989, Esperanza Health Center officially opened its doors on North Fifth Street in “El Centro de Oro,” where many Latino and Spanish-speaking patients lived and continue to live now.
Of the roughly 15,000 individual patients Esperanza sees each year, about 84% are Latino. At Esperanza, everyone who cares for patients must be competent in English and Spanish. Its comprehensive primary care services include adult health, pediatrics, dental, prenatal, behavioral health, nutrition counseling, spiritual care and more.
In addition to its North Fifth Street location, Esperanza has two other locations, in Hunting Park and a newer site in Kensington, which opened in 2019 at the intersection of Kensington & Allegheny Avenues.
The work and services Esperanza provide are helped greatly by the grants it receives. The Independence Blue Cross Foundation has supported Esperanza through its Blue Safety Net Program for nearly a decade, increasing access to primary health care and social services for Latino and minority residents in North Philadelphia. Esperanza was also awarded a grant from the Foundation’s Supporting Treatment and Overdose Prevention (STOP) initiative in 2018, which helped expand services to its new facility in Kensington — the epicenter of the opioid crisis.
“We were small and trying to meet the growing needs of more people, and this has continuously been possible because of the Foundation's grants,” said Post.
Unrestricted grants have also allowed Esperanza to expand its programs and additional services to meet the unique needs of each patient that go beyond primary care. This flexibility in funding enabled Esperanza to offer social services for uninsured and underinsured patients for little or no cost. It also helped Esperanza to make enhancements to their bilingual patient portal, where patients can access information about their care, schedule appointments and ask questions.
As part of its comprehensive addiction recovery services, the Kensington site offers medication-assisted treatment for those in recovery. Patients can also attend group sessions with Esperanza’s behavioral health consultants. The goal is to offer wholistic care that helps not only those battling addiction, but their families and the rest of the community.
“This is a place where we can make a real difference,” said Post. “The Foundation’s support makes us feel that we’re not on our own.”
Esperanza has met the added burdens created by the pandemic by increasing access to testing in underserved and minority communities that are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Esperanza offers free COVID-19 testing at two locations: drive-up testing by appointment five days a week at its Hunting Park site, and no-appointment-needed testing three days a week in partnership with Rock Ministries in Kensington.
“When the virus started, it was important to be able to do as much testing as possible, to make it more available to people that aren’t already Esperanza patients,” said Post. “By partnering with Rock Ministries, we were also able to test people who are homeless.”
When people are tested for COVID-19, the Esperanza staff ask about their overall health to determine if they are receiving regular care and have a primary care doctor. If not, they are counseled about the services Esperanza offers and invited to become a patient.
“Esperanza is the Spanish word for ‘hope’. That's what we're trying to do — bring hope into our community in a healthy way,” says Post.