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South Bronx’s Urban Health Plan celebrates opening of new health center

Attendees dancing before the opening ceremony started.
Attendees dancing before the opening ceremony started.
Madina Toure/Examiner.com

For Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., the official opening of the Simpson Pavilion, Bronx-based Urban Health Plan’s newest health center, hits close to home.

UHP is not just a healthcare institution, he said, but an economic development engine, employing individuals in the area and teaching students in public schools about healthy eating. When Dr. Richard Izquierdo created the organization, he continued, he sought to create a better future for the next generation living in the Bronx.

“He [Izquierdo] develops a little clinic and now we have this so that one day, this little boy from the Bronx can grow up healthy enough to be able to do anything that I want to do, that I set my mind to,” Diaz Jr. said during a speech. “So that this little boy from the Bronx can one day be the Bronx Borough President. It’s emotional.”

On Friday morning, the network — which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year — held an official opening ceremony for the new center outside of its main building on 1054 Simpson St. Elected officials present included Community Board 2 District Manager and 41st Precinct Community Council President Rafael Salamanca, U.S. Rep. José Serrano, U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, and State Senator Rubén Díaz Sr. Community residents and organizations were also present.

The new, 54,000 square-foot facility will be able to take in an additional 20,000 South Bronx residents. It will consist of UHP’s adult medicine, walk-in, pediatrics, behavioral health and OB/GYN departments. It will also include a gym for patients and a demonstration kitchen designed by the chefs of the Canyon Ranch Health Resort.

“What do I call the Simpson Pavilion?” said Paloma Hernandez, UHP’s president and CEO, who is the daughter of UHP's founder. “I call it the hospital of the future, where beds are far and few between — or in this case nonexistent.”

Founded in 1974 by Dr. Richard Izquierdo, UHP is a network of federally qualified community health centers based in the South Bronx and Queens. The organization strives to improve the health of under-served communities.

Izquierdo said that he is proud of how far the institution has come since he founded it four decades ago and credited the current team with the latest developments.

“I am so very proud of what we have done here because it is in my perennial opinion the response to a sick, dysfunctional healthcare system,” Izquierdo said. “We have found a formula for the people in this community and we still have only put a dent into the armor of the problem, but we have put together a new way to a new healthcare.”

The Simpson Pavilion is UHP’s ninth clinic, according to a press release. It was funded by a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the New York City Council, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., State Senator Ruben Diaz and new market tax credits. The tax credits totaled $37.8 million.

“When the federal government is giving out money and the Congress members were here and the President of the United States, $12-13 million, they’re not giving that to everybody, but they’re giving it to Urban Health,” Diaz Jr. said.

In 2013, UHP served more than 60,000 patients through more than 300,000 patient visits at eight clinic sites, eight school-based clinics and four part-time sites, according to a press release. Since 1974, it has served South Bronx communities such as Hunts Point, Mott Haven and Morrisania.

South Bronx resident Zaida Ortiz, 67, of Stratford Avenue, has been living in the area for 27 years and has been a UPH patient for the past 20 years. She comes to UHP for a variety of services, including exercising in the gym, visiting the gynecologist and emergency care. She said she is looking forward to using the new center.

“It’s good,” Ortiz said. “For me, it’s good. This building is new, because the other one is on the other side, but I come here.”