Greater Access to Medical Services for High Needs Area
By Tom Leyde
El Rio Health officially opened its newest healthcare facility May 4 at 3655 E. Grant Road. The nonprofit healthcare center’s grand opening brings the number of facilities in the Tucson area to 13.
El Rio Health spent nearly $13 million to refurbish a 36,000-square-foot former Wells Fargo Bank building – a sum that included more than $1 million in fundraising. Coincidentally, Wells Fargo Bank helped finance the project.
“It truly is a wonderful piece of architecture from the 1970s,” said Nancy Johnson, CEO of El Rio Health. “It has good bones. El Rio has (a total of) 1,700 employees and everyone has a role in this building.”
The new Grant Health Center will employ more than 120 people. Services include medical and dental care for children and adults, behavioral health, midwifery, women’s care, laboratory, radiology, pharmacy, transgender care and health and wellness programs. There are 24 exam rooms, nurse visit rooms and a separate entrance for behavioral health patients.
The two-story building includes two classrooms that will be used for El Rio Health’s nurse practitioner residency program and other activities. A staff break room includes showers and lockers.
El Rio Health opened its first health center in 1970 and is the largest provider of medical and dental services for Pima County’s uninsured and Medicaid populations. It serves about 125,000 people annually. More than 48% of El Rio’s patients live at or below the federal poverty level.
An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 patients will be served at the Grant Road location, Johnson said. “It takes a lot of people to come together to do this work.”
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero congratulated El Rio Health for refurbishing the building rather than demolishing it.
“The expansion of an El Rio clinic is a win for all of us,” Romero said. “I have a soft heart for El Rio clinic because it has a long history in Tucson of helping the most vulnerable among us. And under the leadership of Dr. Nancy Johnson, we have seen amazing growth in services for our community.”
“The doctors at El Rio have such care for our seniors and for our most vulnerable patients,” the mayor told the audience at the grand opening, including El Rio staff. “I have the utmost respect for what you all do.”
Kevin Dahl, the Tucson city councilmember representing Ward 3 where the health center is located, said the new clinic “is going to be staffed by superheroes. I am so grateful for this.”
The new health center is in the heart of a designated high-needs area that faces challenges regarding poverty, unemployment and crime. Romero said she and her Tucson City Council colleagues are working hard to make changes in the area.
“We have to take a look at crime and poverty and the root causes of it and invest in our kids and invest in our schools and invest in our roads and our neighborhoods,” Romero said. “El Rio will be a partner in the reinvestment into the neighborhood to thrive once again.”
She said the city will look into designating the area a thrive zone. Thrive zones encourage collaborations in community-based crime reduction, choice neighborhoods and workforce and economic development.
Lloyd Construction Co. built Grant Health Center, which was designed by BWS Architects. The environment of care offers a healing, calm decor and an open setting to promote wellness.
El Rio Health, which has an annual budget of more than $247 million, purchased the former Wells Fargo building in 2019. El Rio Health Center Foundation raised more than $1 million for the effort.
Most of the project was funded through New Markets Tax Credit allocations from Urban Research Park CDE and the Clearing House Community Development Financial Institution. Partial funding came from an Oral Health Infrastructure grant by the U.S. Resources and Services Administration. Solaris Community Capital provided consulting services.