DR. JEROME GLOSTER, CEO of Primary Care Health Services Inc. The organization is constructing a new medical center to replace the Alma Illery Medical Center in Homewood.
Eden Hall Foundation leads with $2 million grant towards new center
Come the fall of 2024, Homewood will be “home” to a new, state-of-the-art, $20 million facility with pretty much any health-related service one would need.
The New Pittsburgh Courier has learned that the Alma Illery Medical Center, owned by Primary Care Health Services Inc., for 45 years on Hamilton Avenue, will remain open as the new, larger building is constructed in the space next to the current center. Groundbreaking for the new center is expected for the summer of 2023. When the 35,000 to 40,000-square foot building is fully constructed and in operation, it will serve as PCHS’ new headquarters, and the current Alma Illery Medical Center will be torn down.
THE ALMA ILLERY MEDICAL CENTER WILL BE REPLACED WITH A NEW CENTER NEARLY DOUBLE ITS SIZE.
“The current facility has outlived its usefulness,” Dr. Jerome Gloster, CEO of PCHS, told the Courier in an interview, May 11. “We’ve listened to the community. The community has wanted a new health center for years.”
With the new building comes an expanded pharmacy, which would become a retail pharmacy, able to fill prescriptions for the general public. It would create Homewood’s first retail pharmacy in years.
“I think we feel that we’re helping to reduce a barrier to care,” Dr. Gloster said. “When residents have to travel outside their neighborhood just to get pharmacy services, that creates an additional barrier, transportation and otherwise.”
THE HUMBLE BEGINNING
The year was 1968, the same year of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Free neighborhood clinics were being formed in Black communities throughout the country, partly due to the Civil Rights Movement, but also because of common sense—many African Americans were uninsured, and thus shut out of quality health care services. The federal government stepped in. A special Economic Opportunity Act in the early 1960s spurred Neighborhood Health Centers to be built for those who were underprivileged. By 1968, these Neighborhood Health Centers, referred to today as Federally Qualified Health Centers, were becoming the rule, rather than the exception.
In Pittsburgh, the Homewood-Brushton Neighborhood Health Center was formed in 1968. Robert Bolden was its first executive director.
DR. ALMA JOHNSON ILLERY
When Primary Care Health Services Inc., was formed roughly eight years later, the center became PCHS’ home base and was renamed the Alma Illery Medical Center in honor of Alma Illery, the tireless civic leader, community champion and, as described in a newspaper article, the “Doctor of Goodwill.”
Illery received an Honorary Doctorate in Humanities from Tuskegee University for her advocacy of racial integration in hospitals and promotion of training minorities for careers in health care, according to the PCHS website.
WILFORD PAYNE, FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PCHS INC.
Wilford Payne became the executive director for PCHS and the Alma Illery Medical Center in 1977, and he’s credited with transforming PCHS into what it is today—a comprehensive health services organization with a total of nine locations (McKeesport, Braddock, Homestead, Homewood, Hazelwood, West End, Hill District, East Liberty, Wilkinsburg).
DR. JEROME GLOSTER’S ARRIVAL
Dr. Gloster came to the Alma Illery Medical Center in 1995 as a pediatrician, where he remained for 16 years. The last six years of his tenure, he also served as medical director and chief medical officer.
In 2011, Dr. Gloster told the Courier he followed a “calling into a ministry,” and was recruited to join a faith-based health center, the North Side Christian Health Center, where he was medical director and chaplain. During that time, he became assistant pastor at Bethany Baptist Church, in Homewood, and earned his master’s degree in organizational leadership. Deep down, he always had his eye on becoming the CEO of a health services organization, and in 2018, he returned to Primary Care Health Services Inc., as CEO and chief medical officer.
Dr. Gloster said one of his primary goals upon becoming CEO was to find the funding for a brand new medical facility in Homewood, for Homewood.
SYLVIA FIELDS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EDEN HALL FOUNDATION
Enter Sylvia Fields, longtime leader of the Eden Hall Foundation, a mid-size philanthropic organization in Pittsburgh with assets of $300 million. In January, the Eden Hall Foundation hosted an event which brought together a variety of funders, organizations and interested parties to witness the grand presentation and aspirations that PCHS had in constructing a new facility.
A lot of those in attendance were impressed.
Taking a step further than just being “impressed,” the Eden Hall Foundation then announced it had awarded Primary Health Care Services Inc., a $2 million grant to jumpstart the building’s construction.
“We’re very excited about it, to say the least,” voiced Fields, in an exclusive interview with the Courier, April 8.
“COVID did a lot of things. It opened eyes about Federally Qualified Health Centers, so when people were having a tough time getting their shots, these centers and the Alma Illery Medical Center was right out front, and a destination for people who needed their shots. We began to think about the basic health care that FQHCs provide.”
Fields said that the many African Americans in the Pittsburgh area who visit Alma Illery or one of the other eight PCHS centers are getting high-quality health care, dismissing the notion that the uninsured or underinsured are receiving lower quality care.
“That same great quality health care is accessible right in the communities where we live and work, and a lot of us forget that, or we don’t know that,” Fields said.
Supporting the construction of a new facility for PCHS is “very important for us as far as impacting the social determinants of health,” Fields added.
GETTING TO THE GOAL
Dr. Gloster told the Courier that as of May 11, more than $5 million had been raised towards the $20 million goal to construct the new facility. But he assured the Courier that the facility will be built. He said he’s received “promised interest” from a number of organizations and foundations, in addition to the Eden Hall Foundation’s large gift, the $1 million already granted by The Heinz Endowments, $750,000 from the PA Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program and $640,000 from the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Dr. Gloster said the new facility will provide the Homewood community with top-notch exam rooms, labs, imaging elements, physician offices, dental services, maternal services, behavioral health services and podiatry services. PCHS’ “Health Care for the Homeless” program will also be housed in the new facility. Currently, the Alma Illery Medical Center has 5 to 6 thousand patient visits per year.
“We’re talking about some 45 years” PCHS has been in Homewood, Dr. Gloster told the Courier. “I came here as a new pediatrician in 1995 and just felt a calling and commitment to this community and the patients, and for those who needed it the most. We’re basically trying to make sure we’re meeting all the needs of the community from a community health perspective, and we’re absolutely committed to (Homewood’s) future.”