Esperanza Health Centers was established in 2004 as a small clinic on 21st and California with just 3 providers and a handful of staff. Esperanza was started by members of the Little Village community and nearby St. Anthony Hospital when they noticed the lack of people with access to primary care who instead used emergency room visits for this purpose. A single thought launched the movement that would become Esperanza Health Centers and that was “Why don’t we start a community health center in Little Village that speaks Spanish where people can receive primary care.” A few years later, they took possession of a second clinic on 26th and Troy before acquiring the health center at the Marquette School of Excellence. Through their time working with the community, Esperanza began to realize that although most of their examination rooms were north of the Stevenson Expressway, most of the patients were coming from south of the highway. To combat this discrepancy, they began to open sites where most of their patients were coming from. This led to the opening of a site on 47th ST. and California in the Brighton Park neighborhood. The opening of this site could not have been better timed as it came just months before the start of the pandemic, allowing Esperanza to have a community room to do vaccinations and testing, a parking area for more testing, and they worked closely with their neighbor, Mansueto High School, to setup a vaccine clinic in the gym.
Ricardo Cifuentes, Vice President of External Affairs at Esperanza and SWOP Strategy Team member shared that just like their namesake (Esperanza meaning hope in Spanish) their mission is to deliver health and hope for under-served communities. Their goals with that mission in mind are to not only deliver primary care, but to show their communities what it means to enjoy good health. Their services range from pediatrics, adult medicine, gynecology, midwifery, behavioral health services, substance abuse treatment, HIV prevention along with a wide array of programs that support the health services they provide.
Esperanza prides themselves on always seeking to form partnerships and strong relationships with the communities in the neighborhood. To that end, they have partnered with The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), Southwest System of Care (SWSOC), and the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC) to garner referrals. Through their referral system Esperanza can guide community members to the resources that each of these organizations offer and vice versa. During the pandemic those partnerships expanded a lot to meet the growing needs of the community. Esperanza noted how committed SWOP was to getting resources and vaccines to their community, so the two organizations continued to work closely on health equity by having SWOP’s Public Health Ambassadors at their clinics. This created a valued partnership through the pandemic response work.
When asked about the future of Esperanza’s work, Ricardo Cifuentes had this to share, “When talking about expanding health equity, we must make services accessible to people who need them. We don’t want to be on every corner just for the sake of being, but because we are looking at places where there are health disparities and determine where we can make a difference by having a presence.” With that in mind, an expanded site is opening on 47th and
California where they will have 36 examination rooms and an inclusive PACE program for the elderly. PACE is a program for seniors who can still live independently but require support by providing meals, health access, therapy and even picks them up and takes them home. This will allow families to go to school and work while still being able to stay with their elders. Esperanza Health Centers is also working on their family residency program in partnership with Rush University Medical Center which brings residents to Esperanza to attract people who want to provide primary care within communities like theirs. The program already has 14 residents already and will hire an additional 8 next year.
Esperanza’s hope is to continue to be able to provide for the communities that they serve and states the best way to support their work is to continue to collaborate with them in spreading resources and letting everyone know that there is a health center in their community. Esperanza relies on their relationships with their partners in health to continue to refer community members to them so that they may meet the communities’ needs.