Semaj, 11, a CHOP Care Network patient, surveys the exterior of the new South Philadelphia Community Health and Literacy Center.
To longtime neighborhood resident Shantell Sexton, one word describes the new South Philadelphia Community Health and Literacy Center: “special.”
Indeed it is special, in so many ways — as well as groundbreaking in its unique approach to children’s health and the well-being of the entire community it serves. The first-of-its-kind facility houses the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Care Network Primary Care South Philadelphia practice, the city of Philadelphia’s Health Center 2 for adult healthcare, the South Philadelphia Free Library branch and the DiSilvestro Recreation Center.
“By way of a public-private partnership, a project of this scope is unprecedented in Philadelphia,” says Peter Grollman, CHOP’s Senior Vice President, Public Affairs. “Integrating health, literacy and wellness will do remarkable things for families.”
Sexton has been bringing her children to CHOP’s South Philadelphia practice since it opened in 1998. Now, in addition to her 17-year-old son, Jhafi, and 11-year-old son, Semaj, her 2-year-old granddaughter, Ava, is also a patient. “If we arrive early for an appointment, we can stop in the library and use the computers,” she says. “Afterward, the kids can play in the park. Everything is so nice and new, but all the doctors and nurses we’ve always known are there, too.”
In it together
The Castro family — Raul Sr., Veronica, Raul Jr., 13, and Elizabeth, 11 — relax in the Free Library of Philadelphia branch located on the first floor.
CHOP’s South Philly practice had been outgrowing the space it previously occupied a few blocks south on Broad Street. The library, health center and rec center were located at the current spot, but the facilities were outdated. The old building needed to be razed to make way for the welcoming 96,000-square-foot, three-story structure that takes up the entire front of the 1700 block of South Broad Street. A spectacular park fills the back third of the property.
“When we can co-locate a great institution like CHOP with our wonderful library system and our recreation system, it’s a win-win-win for everybody,” says Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.
It was an ambitious project, and some neighbors were initially skeptical. “We held a series of town meetings for people in the community to learn about the project and build trust," says Doug Carney, Senior Vice President, Facilities, Real Estate and Construction Management. “The more we explained and showed the plans, the more excited they became.”
A small group of neighbors became part of an advisory board that met monthly with CHOP leaders, city officials and the builder to give feedback. Neighbors identified, for example, potential traffic congestion that would be caused by cars entering and exiting the parking garage from the same street. As a result, the location of the exit was moved.
The project has generated substantial interest and has been the subject of media reports, case studies and conference presentations. No other city and hospital in the nation had ever teamed up for such a multiuse facility. More joint efforts that build on the synergy among the health facilities, library and rec center are in the works.
CHOP and Health Center 2 patients will receive “prescriptions for health” that tap into the resources at hand. For a child who is obese or an adult with diabetes, for example, the prescriptions might include researching healthy recipes on a library computer or checking out organized fitness activities at the rec center. Health fairs are envisioned that combine information from the library, advice from pediatric and adult healthcare specialists, and activities from the rec center. To reach neighborhood teens, CHOP staff could set up a table by the basketball court and offer information on family planning and rapid tests for sexually transmitted infections. Opportunities are limitless.
“At CHOP, we talk a lot about breakthroughs — in cancer research, in patient care,” says President and CEO Madeline Bell. “I consider this facility, and its potential to improve the health of a whole community, a breakthrough.”
Why it's special
The CHOP Care Network Primary Care South Philadelphia facility features many helpful services that are responsive to the needs of the community, including:
- Thirty-one bilingual staff members who speak Spanish, Mandarin or Vietnamese in addition to English
- Fifty to 60 same-day appointments every day
- Appointments with an asthma specialist
- A higher level of care coordination for more than 100 patients who receive advanced care
- A financial counselor who can help uninsured families apply for insurance
- On-site psychology services
- On-site intimate-partner-violence counseling