Providing health care and wellness services to underserved communities, regardless of one’s ability to pay, remains the central goal of Neighborhood Health Centers of the Lehigh Valley.
The independent nonprofit local health organization, NHCLV, opened a fourth location in North Bethlehem in October while continuously serving in Easton, Allentown and the South Side.
These health centers provide both mental and physical health services for community members who are underinsured or uninsured.
“I think it is terrific that there is another health center opening in the Bethlehem area to serve community members in need, being another alternative to care that is accessible for students who would meet eligibility requirements,” David Rubenstein, executive director of Lehigh’s Health and Wellness Center, said in an email.
The new center is located at 635 E. Broad St. at the Broad & Wood professional building and includes nine exam rooms, a group classroom, a private behavioral health consultation space and an on-site pharmacy.
“We had to find (a location) that we could afford and was accessible. My primary goal was to make sure that we were accessible by multiple buses. Broad Street happens to be a street that the four corners of the Valley can get to with maybe only one bus transfer,” said Melissa Miranda, the CEO of NHCLV. “So that individuals that might need our services that might be a little more outline could still get to us.”
Services offered include primary medical and behavioral health services, medication-assisted therapy for substance-use disorder, care management, social services support, disease prevention and wellness education programs, family planning services and group prenatal and parenting programs.
“This is the first one that we’re opening that has team-based care in mind. So the rooms are set up a little bit differently,” Miranda said. “Our patients then can come in and actually have access to their team.”
In 2015, NHCLV was awarded a grant to begin construction of this new clinic. The Department of Health and Human Services Bureau of Primary Health Care put out a request for more health centers in the community, which prompted NHCLV to apply for a North Side location.
“The demographics overall have shifted so that there are more Medicare and Medicaid-eligible individuals and more people living under 200 percent of the federal poverty limits,” Miranda said. “It was clear that the need was still there.”
Not only do Miranda and her colleagues at NHCLV hope to serve those in the community, but they also have the capacity to reach those a bit further out in other high-need areas.
In addition to typical services, the North Bethlehem location provides COVID-19 care and testing.
“This one we designed to have different airflow with UVC incorporated so that the exchanges of air would be more frequent and cleansing — anticipating that this might become a site where post-COVID diagnosis or diagnostic care might need to happen,” Miranda said. “The design actually allows for the incorporation of telemedicine which, up until now, health centers were not allowed.”
The Bethlehem location hopes to supplement for some of the mental health work already being done for students in the area, including services being provided to Lehigh students.
Elena Cucco, one of the Lehigh Counseling Center’s staff psychologists, said the new health center has the potential to be an outstanding resource for students who need services beyond what the Counseling Center can offer.
“We continue to offer services to anybody who wants to work with us, and I think, from time to time, we run up against issues of insurance when people are looking for more extended care,” Cucco said. “We try to be equitable in the way that we allocate resources so that if we’re coming up hard against practical issues of people being uninsured or being undocumented or people just not having access to what they need, then we try to flex toward the arm of justice on those issues.”
Cucco said the Counseling Center appreciates having a community partner who can serve as a resource for all people in need, regardless of income.
Soon to come is an additional Allentown location that will be similarly inspired by this North Bethlehem clinic.
The health center is accepting walk-ins for all patients with the exception of those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, who are expected to call beforehand.
NHCLV can be accessed by LANTA bus routes 101 and 215.
“NHCLV is here for everyone. We’re led by a patient-led board of directors. As such, our board takes our mission and the stewardship of their governance really seriously,” Miranda said. “We’re here to welcome everyone and not just those that might be living under a certain level of income — anybody that wants a really integrated model of care I think should consider coming to visit us.”