Nearly 50 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson supported legislation that supported the creation of community health centers across the nation, with El Rio Community Health Center being one of the first. A successful partnership between various westside neighborhoods and the University of Arizona College of Medicine created the first El Rio Health Center at 839 W. Congress St. Today, 11 El Rio Health Center campuses serve the Tucson community providing medical, dental, behavioral health and many other health services for over 107,000 individuals who call El Rio their health home.
Since inception, El Rio’s mission has been and continues to be to provide comprehensive, accessible, affordable, quality and compassionate care—and that vision is seen through our over 1200 employees who see El Rio as an employer of choice. No patient is turned away from El Rio and last year, over $11 million in charity care was provided for community members. El Rio also provides care for all community members including those with insurance, Medicare or those who may be uninsured. Our many health and wellness programs, classes and outreach services illustrate our commitment to prevention and health improvement through our care of over 35,000 children and 72,000 adults.
As we approach our 50th anniversary in 2020, we celebrate the recent opening of the new El Rio Cherrybell Health Center located on the southeast corner of 22nd Street and Kino Parkway. This project was funded through a $16 million New Market Tax Credit from the Corporation for Supportive Housing. This investment included a $10.5 million construction loan from BBVA Compass Bank and a $5.5 million equity investment from Wells Fargo Bank. Donors of the El Rio Health Center Foundation contributed $865,000 toward the new building and radiology equipment. This 49,000-square-foot, energy efficient building serves all ages and provides medical, dental, behavioral health, psychiatry, laboratory services, mammography, ultrasound, x-ray, pharmacy, wellness classes and patient insurance assistance. This is also a Teaching Health Center for El Rio housing medical students, pharmacy residents, family medicine residents, nurse practitioner residents, and dental residents.
Also underway is the expansion of the El Rio Southeast Health Center at the southeast corner of Kolb and Golf Links roads. Our Southeast Health Center opened nearly 11 years ago, and quickly grew with families and older adults. This health center will grow from 14,000 square feet to nearly 40,000 by late fall, adding dental care, behavioral health, nurse midwifery and OB/GYN services as well as expanding pediatric and family medicine services. This expansion was partially supported by a $1 million Health Resources and Services Administration grant. This expansion will allow us to grow the current patient population from approximately 8000 patients to nearly 11,000 in the coming years.
In late fall, we will also welcome the second “HealthOn” health center with the opening of HealthOn University at the Trinity Project adjacent to Time Market. HealthOn University will join HealthOn Broadway as our two neighborhood health centers in partnership with Tucson Medical Center.
Why is El Rio growing so rapidly in the last five years? When we ask our physicians, nurses and employees about our growth, they point to the needs of our community. Some identify the ability to secure a same day appointment when needed, the expanded hours from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays allowing community members to avoid unnecessary expense of urgent care or emergency rooms which make El Rio Health popular. Other employees identify the ease of having medical, dental, behavioral health, laboratory, x-ray and other services all under one roof as being the draw. And then our nurses and physicians will cite the continuity of care, the convenience of an integrated record for all your health history, treatment and medications which provides a safer patient experience and the 24/7 RN nurse triage.
As El Rio Health approaches its 50th anniversary, we all honor the great work of community visionaries over the years in recognizing what great health care should look like for our community! As a team of healthcare professionals, we’re honored to be part of the national health center movement and invite you to visit El Rio Health! Find more information online at elrio.org.
Nancy Johnson, RN, PhD, is the CEO of El Rio Health.