A new health and wellness center in Mott Haven that combines needle exchange with high-quality health care for homeless drug users is the first of its kind in the country, according to its founders. On Tuesday, January 10, non profits Citiwide Harm Reduction, a needle exchange program, and HELP/PSI, a primary medical care provider, celebrated the opening of their joint health and wellness center at 226 E. 144th Street.
The 1,750-square-foot clinic is on the second floor of Citiwide’s already-existing drop in center in the same building. It was built with a $300,000 loan from the Primary Care Development Corporation (PCDC). It is expected to open for business within approximately two weeks, pending final approval for the city’s Department of Health.
Proponents of the center argue it will be a tremendous benefit for Citiwide’s clientele, because it will save them the trouble of traveling throughout the Bronx and the city for health care - something they do not always do, even when facing serious health consequences. Patients will be treated for infectious diseases, mental health conditions, and preventative care will be offered as well.
Congressman Jose Serrano attended the ribbon cutting and said the center would be an asset to the community.
“This is about loving your brother, loving your sister and doing God’s work,” he said.
Serrano also assailed the notion that needle exchange programs, which were recently de-funded by the federal government, promote intravenous drug use.
“They continue to ignore the medical situation and that just because you want to save someone’s life, you’re going to create more drug users. It makes me want to say ‘trade places with me, come to the south Bronx and see how it really is.’”
Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo also pledged her support for the wellness center.
“This is providing people the opportunity to change the circumstances in their lives,” she said. “They (the founders) get it. How do we provide for the whole person?”
Robert Cordero, executive director of Citiwide, and Paul Vitale, president of HELP/PSI, have been planning the wellness center since late 2009.
“We decided two years ago that one of the things we want to do was get health care together with needle exchange,” Vitale said.
Cordero added that the center “is really unprecedented. In this country, it doesn’t really exist.”
To Dr. Monica Sweeney, the city Department of Health’s assistant commissioner for HIV/AIDS Prevention hopes that changes, thanks to Cordero and Vitale.
“This is a model that should be replicated,” she said.