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---Issued February 19, 2010

For Stacie Chapman, a young mother of three, the new health clinic at Harbor Homes is a “blessing.”

“I live right around the corner from the clinic. Daycare for my kids is in the same building. And I don’t have to call off work to take my children to see the doctor – the clinic has evening hours.”

The MHEDS medical center staff at Harbor Homes began seeing patients on January 4. Less than three weeks later, Chapman had her children checked out at the center’s clinic by nurse practitioner Joseph Phillips.

Her three young ones, Alexander, seven, Damaria, five, and Niveana, two, fidgeted inside the waiting room as they waited to be examined by Phillips – and when he came in breezily, wearing his scary white coat, they pretty much stopped breathing.

The first medical diagnostician to work at the clinic, Phillips can perform checkups, administer inoculations, prescribe medications, and make physician referrals. The children and their mom waited for him to do one or all of the above. When Phillips entered the exam room, little two-year-old Niveana stared at the doorway as if a portal to another dimension had just opened.

A HACE-MHEDS Partnership
The family health care program at 1841 East 18th Street is provided by HACE in partnership with the Multi-Cultural Health Evaluation Delivery System (MHEDS). The facility, situated in the Marsha Ann Hall Learning Center, offers family health services to the 3,000-plus residents within walking distance of Harbor Homes, Harbor Homes Annex, the John E. Horan Garden Apartments, and Eastbrook.

“We’re very excited about it,” said Agnes R. Priscaro, the driving force behind the new clinic. It was Priscaro who applied for, and obtained, a three-year grant to staff it from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. She is the executive director of MHEDS as well as the Erie Housing Authority Board Chair.

Minority and low-income communities in Erie County and surrounding areas have long depended on MHEDS for much-needed primary health care and support services. Indeed, MHEDS celebrates its 38th anniversary this year.

This organization deals with those who are isolated from health care by their low incomes or geographic areas, and also those of other nationalities and cultural backgrounds who don’t speak English and need translators. It serves 39 ethnic groups, ranging from Somalians to Sudanese, Turkish, Bosnians, Russians, Ukrainians, Iraqis, Armenians, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Kurds and Asians – all immigrants or refugees to the U.S. and Erie. It provides interpreters/caseworkers to guide people through the health care system, providing person-to-person health education, translation, interpretation, and referrals to other medical and social service agencies. The interpreters/caseworkers serve as “critical bridges,” Priscaro said, between under-served populations and the health care system.

“I feel it’s a wonderful opportunity for people to get health care in their neighborhoods,” Priscaro said. “It reminds me of years ago when you had a doctor in your neighborhood you could walk to. Physicians back then lived among the people and knew them well. Now, with so many of our residents without cars or transportation and with gas prices the way they are for those who do have cars, and with limited incomes, people are reluctant to travel for health care. Our new facility enables our residents to walk to the doctor’s office.”

A Benefit to Residents and the Community
Thanks to the full range of services the health center offers, from pre-natal care, nutrition, exams, and hospital referrals, “We’re able to take care of our residents’ health needs, stressing preventive care,” Priscaro said.

“Proper preventive health care will reduce the need for emergency room visits, which are uncomfortable for the patient and costly to the community,” she said.

“I just feel it’s a wonderful opportunity for MHEDS and the Housing Authority and the people both agencies serve,” Priscaro said.

“Our caseworkers and interpreters understand their own people and live among them, socialize with them, and even worship with them,” she said. “Their children go to school with them. Therefore, they have trusting relationships with their clients and are the perfect bridge between agencies and people.”

The medical practitioners and physicians at the center are available Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Fridays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The center features a waiting area, two exam rooms, bathrooms and a large parking area. It is accessible to persons with disabilities.

A Little Success Story
Niveana didn’t utter a whisper during the whole exam – she just sat there quietly as the stethoscope moved very slowly over her chest.
“Perfectly healthy!” Phillips finally said, smiling at her mother.
He announced the same for the other children. Their mother smiled as he finished and then left the room.
“I love you,” Niveana said, as Phillips went out the door.