City Councilwoman Quetcy Lozada, Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole and architect Seth Cohen spoke Saturday at a community meeting on a proposed district health center at Friends Hospital, 4641 Roosevelt Blvd.
The crowd at Simpson Recreation Center was a mix of supporters and opponents of the plan.
Many opponents believe the city has already made the decision to open a health center at Friends, with Joe Menkevich dismissing the meeting as “icing on the cake.”
Right now, the Northeast has one district health center, at 2230 Cottman Ave. The city said there are wait times for appointments of up to 12 months for adults and five months for kids.
The city wants two new centers – one at Friends and another near the Frankford Transportation Center, both in the 19124 ZIP code.
“We need both,” Bettigole said.
Some 31,300 people would use the center at Friends per year.
Opposing the health center at Friends are the Northwood Civic Association, St. James Lutheran Church, St. Mark’s Church Frankford and the nonprofit Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and executive director Paul Steinke.
One reason for opposing the center on the 99-acre Friends property is because it would require the demolition of a 19th-century Victorian cottage, “Lawnside,” built in 1859. Both Friends and Lawnside are designated national historic landmarks.
The Philadelphia Historical Commission has approved demolition of the 174-year-old building and construction of a two-story, 55,000-square-foot structure that would house the center.
“They failed us miserably,” Debbie Klak said of the historical commission.
Klak and others blame the Scattergood Foundation, which runs Friends and supports the city’s proposal, for neglecting Lawnside.
The city said 44 sites were considered before it settled on Friends, and opponents are unhappy that the city is refusing to identify those sites.
“This is a botched thing. There has been no transparency,” said the Rev. Paul Andell, pastor at St. James.
Opponents also cite concerns about lack of an impact study and safety on the Boulevard, as some visitors would have to cross 12 lanes of traffic.
“Locations, location, location,” said Northwood Civic Association vice president Terry Heiser.
Heiser said neighbors don’t oppose the need for a center. They disagree with the demolition of Lawnside, among other reasons. Northwood Civic Association president Mari Carrasquillo called for a compromise, suggesting the city build a center elsewhere on the Friends property while preserving Lawnside.
Heiser recommended that the city scrap plans to include housing and a supermarket at the proposed health center at Frankford Avenue and Pratt Street, and instead build a bigger center there, eliminating the need for a center at Friends. The city will not be taking Heiser up on his recommendation.
While state Rep. Joe Hohenstein – a Northwood resident – agrees that the project has lacked transparency and there are concerns about traffic, he believes the community needs the care that will be offered.
“I think the facility needs to happen,” he said.
The center would offer comprehensive primary care for adults and children such as vaccines, flu shots, blood tests, mammograms, pharmacy and physical therapy. The cost would be $5 to $20 for visits and no charge for services. It would accept Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance.
“It’s a treasure that Philadelphia has these,” said Bettigole, former clinical director at the Cottman Avenue center.
The center would be located close to the SEPTA stop at Langdon Street.
Lozada said the city would have to rezone the property before the project moves forward. She also wants to secure support from other local elected officials. ••