About 40 stunned staffers watched yesterday's White House video feed, some sitting with patients in clinic waiting areas, others in a North Philadelphia conference room, wondering if President Obama would mention their clinic: "Esperanza Health Center."
They laughed when he made a joke about another center that sees patients in a bathroom. "We had recently converted one bathroom into an exam area while we waited to expand," Esperanza's executive director, Susan Post, said later by phone.
Obama never did mention Esperanza, but no one really expected it to come up during an announcement about $508 million in stimulus funding for capital projects at 85 health centers nationwide.
They already knew that more than $6.5 million of it would fund a brand-new health center, their organization's third, at Sixth and Cayuga Streets in Hunting Park. A crumbling brick warehouse, whose roof partly caved in after Esperanza signed an option on the property over the summer, will be demolished. Overall patient capacity will be doubled.
An additional $3.9 million will fund renovations at two Southwest Philadelphia locations owned by another nonprofit, Greater Philadelphia Health Action Inc.
At 50th Street and Woodland Avenue, a new third floor will expand adult medicine, pediatric and women's health services, increasing the clinic's current capacity by 50 percent, said Shirley Bennett, marketing director for GPHA, which runs five other full-service centers around the city, plus one stand-alone clinic for behavioral health and another for dental.
Its building at 55th and Woodland, which has been vacant since the clinic moved to the new quarters several years ago, will be renovated and reopened as a dental- and behavioral health-services center, she said.
Esperanza's two centers currently serve much of eastern North Philadelphia - home to eight of the 10 poorest census tracts in the city, said finance director Jake Becker - and the new Hunting Park clinic will help an estimated 6,500 more people at the northern end. It will be the first to include a wellness component, with equipment and activities to target high levels of obesity and diabetes.
Fifteen medical staff - they, like all other medical providers at Esperanza, will be bilingual - will be among 60 permanent new jobs, Becker said, and 55 temporary jobs are expected over two years of construction; groundbreaking is anticipated next summer.
The stimulus grants announced yesterday pay only for construction. Organizations must find money elsewhere to purchase the land ($250,000 for Hunting Park, already set aside) and fund new operations ($5 million, roughly doubling Esperanza's budget, which will come largely from insurance reimbursements).
This is the fourth round of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants to Federally Qualified Health Centers, which provide care to underserved populations. The last two divided more than $1 billion for new jobs and technology upgrades among all centers nationwide.
The first round, like this one, was competitive and aimed at opening new locations. Among the winners were ChesPenn Health Services, for a new clinic in Upper Darby, and Covenant House Health Services, for a new center at Stenton and Mount Pleasant Avenues.
Esperanza's director, well aware that hundreds of clinics would be competing in the latest round, thought over the summer that signatures from people on the street might help show community support.
"The first person I went to said, 'I would sign this a thousand times,' " Post recalled.
But there was room for only 500 names - each unique.