How UPMC Health Plan is Expanding its Health Care Offerings With the Neighborhood Center
The free center in East Liberty offers virtual health care services, a food pantry, workforce development programs, social services and referrals to supportive resources.
UPMC Health Plan is expanding its offerings to the community in the form of a free Neighborhood Center that provides everything from workforce development to social services.
Director Thomas Washington Jr. says the Neighborhood Center, which opened in December at 6401 Penn Ave., in the Village at Eastside, has helped more than 4,500 local residents meet a variety of needs.
“The community really needs to know UPMC Health Plan is looking at different kinds of care to service needs that are external to health care,” he adds. “You don’t have to be a UPMC member to use the center; it’s open to everyone.”
He emphasized that this is not an urgent-care center that provides emergency medical care, but provides other important services that aid in reducing hunger, improving life skills and other assistance.
Center hours are: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Washington says the center’s model was derived from four areas of engagement based on social determinants – education, enrichment, health and wellness and workforce development.
Planning the center’s model took two to three years as staff researched local nonprofits to prevent duplicating efforts in the community. They also sought feedback from the community on the services they need and want.
UPMC Health Plan has partnered with a number of local organizations that complement the health care branch of the center’s services.
“Their areas of expertise help us to provide a strong partnership internally so we can do magical things externally,” he adds.
Key partners include: Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania, CareerLink, Carlow University, East End Cooperative Ministry, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Heinz Endowments, The Kingsley Association, Larimer Consensus Group, Literacy Pittsburgh, Neighborhood Resilience Project, PA Women Work, Partner4Work, Per Scholas, Trying Together, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and Zone 550 Council.
Washington says the ultimate goal of the center is to serve as many individuals as possible in a space that does not feel like a hospital setting.
Food bank distribution is held during business hours the fourth Saturday of the month, on a first-come, first-served basis. Residents can also learn to grocery shop on a budget and come to the center and learn to cook meals on a budget, or cook meals from the food in their distribution boxes.
According to Washington, the center helps people with such services as financial planning, applying for Medicare and Medicaid, job applications and interviews, telehealth appointments, workspaces and conference rooms and citizenship classes through Literacy Pittsburgh.
Jewish Family and Community Services also links refugees to the services they may need through the center.
Free temporary child care is also offered to parents who are participating in the center’s programs, a feature that Washington says helps to break down some barriers to success.
Alicia Donner of the Pittsburgh Financial Empowerment Center says she and her staff provide one-on-one financial counseling to individuals and couples in Allegheny County.
Services include safe and affordable banking, credit management and budgeting.
“This has been a great partnership,” she says. “People like the central location, access to free parking and transportation. It’s an awesome space to get access to the resources people need that approach health more broadly.”
Washington, a Pittsburgh native, says he has a vested interest in the community and the “growth and development of people.”
“As a community member, I am always thinking, ‘How do we make communities stronger?’ As the center’s director, I want to see all of the partnerships grow and flourish, and have cross-pollination of resources across the board.”
Washington is planning two center events in October to further reach the community.
On Saturday, Oct. 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., a Children’s Health Insurance Pennsylvania-participant art show will be held and pieces will be judged by local artists.
The family-oriented event will also feature health screenings, local resource information and possibly a DJ.
On Saturday, Oct. 21, the center will host a panel of Black therapists to discuss mental health that is affecting local communities. The event, which is still being planned, will provide a safe space for community members to be linked to mental health services.
Washington says UPMC Health Plan hopes to open more community centers across the state.