Neighborhood Health Action Centers Offer Pathways to Care

January 19, 2018


On a late afternoon in early December, a woman and small child enter the large, light-colored building on the corner of 115th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. The woman, between work shifts, rushes to use the lactation room at the East Harlem Neighborhood Health Action Center. She and many community members file into the offices to access on-site services. The building houses more than 15 social service programs, four community-based organizations, and other New York City Department of Health programs.

“It’s a hub,” says Jessie Lopez, referral specialist at the Health Department’s Center for Health Equity. “People come here at all hours of the day for reasons that range from lactation services to signing up for personal identification cards.”

The Center for Health Equity’s East Harlem Neighborhood Health Action Center is one of three centers located in revitalized Health Department buildings with co-located health services, community health centers, public hospital clinical services, community-based organizations and various service providers. The other two centers are in Tremont, Bronx and Brownsville, Brooklyn. The Health Department expects to open four more centers in 2018.

“It’s a holistic approach to care,” says Jaime Gutierrez, action center coordinator at the Center for Health Equity. “The Action Center is not only a place for health care services, but it’s also a place for organizing and planning, where residents can come and connect to a variety of social services.”

In fact, an Action Center offers primary care, mental health care, and in some cases, even dental care. If visitors seek services not offered at one location, a referral specialist or health navigator helps them access services at other locations. In addition, the centers offer health and wellness classes, and workshops.

While the Neighborhood Health Action Centers’ current iteration is new, the concept isn’t exactly novel. “Neighborhood-based programs have a long history in New York,” said Gutierrez. “It’s been a model for improving health citywide dating back over a century with District Health Centers.” The Neighborhood Health Center Movement began in 1921 in East Harlem through a demonstration project conceived by the American Red Cross and the New York City Health Commissioner.

In 2002, then-Deputy Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett sought to focus on resource-deprived neighborhoods by establishing District Public Health Offices (DPHOs) in the South Bronx, East and Central Harlem, and North and Central Brooklyn. These DPHOs (which would become today’s Neighborhood Health Action Centers) promoted health equity, reduced health disparities and improved community health.

Nearly 100 years later, using a similar but revamped effort, the Action Centers offer key strategies, including multiple health services in one location, data- and evidence-informed practices and diverse groups working together to improve services.

Neighborhood Health Action Centers aim to serve community members, improve linkage to services, identify coverage gaps and reduce service duplication. More specifically, the Action Centers aim to: expand access to high-quality clinical care to help address high premature mortality rates; connect community members to support services and health education; and address root causes of health inequities, including the physical environment, housing and employment.

“The Action Centers are exemplary because their very program infrastructure is designed to address the social determinants of health,” said Sara Gardner, executive director of the Fund for Public Health in New York City. “They are social and physical environments that promote and support good health for everyone.”

Neighborhood Health Action Centers

East Harlem Neighborhood Health Action Center
158 E. 115th St., Manhattan
Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Brownsville Neighborhood Health Action Center
259 Bristol St., Brooklyn
Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tremont Neighborhood Health Action Center
1826 Arthur Ave., Bronx
Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.