With a boost from the federal government, the main clinic of Tucson's largest community health center will be demolished and rebuilt for $14 million by 2015.
A federal grant of $5 million that will buoy the El Rio Community Health Center's building project was announced Thursday by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services administrator Dr. Mary Wakefield.
Wakefield said the government also is giving El Rio a second grant of $494,638 for renovations at its southwest-side clinic, 1500 W. Commerce Court, near Valencia and Midvale Park roads.
The anchor clinic of El Rio, which is the state's largest community health center, is its one-story Robert Gomez Building at 839 W. Congress St. But the 34-year-old 36,000-square-foot building at the Congress location is tired and overcrowded, officials say.
A 26,000-square-foot, two-story building next to the Gomez Building that was built in 1991 and houses El Rio's children's and dental services will not be part of the demolition.
Since El Rio sees mostly low-income patients, including those who are uninsured and underinsured, its patient population has soared in recent years as the economy sputtered and as state budget cuts to health care have left more indigent Arizonans without health insurance. The center wrote off $14.5 million in charity care in 2011 and projects that amount will be $17 million this year.
The Gomez Building will continue to be in use while a new $14.1 million, two-story, 50,000-square-foot facility is built in front of it, in an area that is now a parking lot. Construction is scheduled to begin in January 2013. While construction is under way, El Rio will provide alternative parking and shuttles, officials said.
El Rio executive director Kathy Byrne said the new building will allow El Rio to see nearly 7,000 more patients per year at its Congress Street site, and will also accommodate a larger staff. The site hosts about 15,000 patients annually.
The grant money is part of an $11 billion effort through the Affordable Care Act to expand services and support construction and renovation projects at community health centers over five years. Community health centers will serve an additional 1.3 million patients in the next two years, federal officials say.
"President Obama's health-care law is making our community health centers stronger," Wakefield said. "For many Americans, community health centers are the major source of care that ranges from prevention to treatment of chronic diseases."
The federal grant covers 35 percent of the cost of the new building and El Rio officials say they will pay for the remainder through a blend of funds, including fundraising through the El Rio Foundation.
Officials do not yet know what the new building will look like, as no architect has been contracted for the project, but "it is not going to be a box," said Richard Spaulding, El Rio's strategic facilities director.
Renovations at El Rio's southwest-side site will allow for a larger patient volume and will expand the pediatrics unit to include dental services for children. The money will also enable El Rio to purchase much-needed equipment for the site, including hydrolic exam tables, mercury-free blood-pressure units and heat-safe lamps. That renovation project is expected to be complete by July 2013.
Did you know?
El Rio has provided health care in Tucson since 1970, primarily to underserved populations.
It has 16 Pima County locations and last year served 76,190 county patients, 76 percent of whom live at or below the federal poverty level. Twenty-eight percent of El Rio's patients last year had no health insurance
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at email@example.com or 573-4134.