By Michael Boren, Inquirer Staff Writer
Promising to restore a North Philadelphia neighborhood known for dilapidated buildings and a lack of medical resources, city and state officials helped break ground Wednesday on a $15 million health-care facility near the Strawberry Mansion area.
The Stephen Klein Wellness Center, named for the developer, is expected to offer primary care, dental, and behavioral health services - as well as 50 job openings - when it opens near 21st Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. More than 100 people jammed inside a heated tent Wednesday for the ceremony.
High rates of obesity have been a problem in the area. In the 19121 zip code, where the center will be built, for example, more than 50 percent of adults were estimated to be obese, according to the 2012 Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey released by the nonprofit Public Health Management Corp.
Residents say they have to travel long distances for doctor's appointments or treatment.
"This is something that's really needed," longtime resident Valeria Chalmers, 67, said after the ceremony.
Project HOME, which takes on homelessness and poverty, will direct the nearly 29,000-square-foot center, which is also slated to include a pharmacy and YMCA-managed fitness area. Sister Mary Scullion, executive director of Project HOME, hefted one of the shovels to officially break ground Wednesday.
Residents and advocates point to the center as a sign of a neighborhood in transformation. Problems - abandoned properties, spurts of violent crime - still exist. But signs of improvement, such as a renovated bus hub near 33d and Dauphin Streets, are there, too. City officials said they hoped the wellness center could accelerate that trend.
"This community hung in there," Mayor Nutter said. "They never gave up on themselves, and we have a responsibility to stand with you."
Gov. Corbett, who also hefted a shovel at the ceremony, called the center "the right thing to do for the community."
"We do have an obligation," he said, "to help those who can't help themselves."
The center is the result of a collaboration among the city, Project HOME, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, and Phillies partners Leigh and John Middleton, among others. The Middletons; Stephen Klasko, Jefferson president and chief executive; and Stephen Klein were among the biggest funders. The center is expected to be completed in early 2015.