The newest CentroMed location at 5500 Ray Ellison Blvd.
CentroMed's Indian Creek Health and Wellness Complex is located at 5500 Ray Ellison Blvd. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

City Council on Thursday agreed to contribute up to $750,000 to help with the final stages of construction on a health and wellness center in a historically underserved community in Southwest San Antonio.

Issues with real estate and funding had threatened to derail the project aimed at providing primary care services for a population of mainly low-income, uninsured families. With the City’s shot in the arm, the facility is one step closer to its projected completion in late October.

The health and wellness complex has been a long time coming for the 36,000 residents of Indian Creek, who currently have no access to primary care within the area’s geographic boundaries. The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District has designated the 78242 zip code as one of 10 in the city at high risk for ongoing public health problems.

To mitigate these issues, CentroMed, a nonprofit community health center organization, set out to open the Indian Creek Health and Wellness Complex, a 16,226-square foot primary care clinic with a 22,120-square foot wellness center on a six-acre lot located at 5500 Ray Ellison Blvd.

As part of the Capital Improvements portion of the City’s 2017 bond, the project’s initial proposal began with a budget of $3 million. At the time, CentroMed President and CEO Ernesto Gómez planned to secure an existing building within the area and use the funding for renovations.

But a lack of available commercial development in the area forced CentroMed officials to build a new facility, Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) said, adding that nonprofits often struggle to find homes in high-need communities due to existing infrastructure, or lack thereof.

CentroMed partnered with the San Antonio Area Foundation and other charitable foundations to raise nearly $12 million through public and private funds to construct a brand new healthcare facility for a community Saldaña says has been “overlooked for generations.”

“When your income is just above $30,000, accessing health care is already difficult without having to travel well outside of your neighborhood” to receive services, he said.

Of the residents in the Indian Creek area, 31 percent are uninsured, and 66 percent live at or below the poverty line, according to a CentroMed report. The new facility will provide sliding-scale healthcare assistance to area residents and a community fitness center which will include a basketball court, free weights area, cardio equipment, and rooms for exercise instruction such as yoga, Zumba, and cardio boxing, with membership offered at little to no cost. 

When the Rivard Report visited the Indian Creek neighborhood on Wednesday, Michael Guzman, 66, was walking with his 4-year-old granddaughter along Ray Ellison Boulevard, en route to Pearsall Park. He said he has lived most of his life in the neighborhood, save for five years spent in Houston in his mid-20s.

“I used to feel like [this area] hasn’t changed much since not a lot was out here,” Guzman said. “Now we have more bus stops and new buildings and things for people in the area to do.”

The streets surrounding the new CentroMed facility, which include routes to Pearsall Park, were part of a recent $22 million renovation made possible through bond projects that allowed VIA Metropolitan Transit to expand bus lines in the area to better serve the community, Saldaña said.

Asked if he had plans to become a member at the new Indian Creek Health and Wellness Complex gym, Guzman said it would depend on timing and cost.

“If I have extra money it usually goes to my granddaughter so she can have some fun,” Guzman said. “But maybe if I had more money that week, or it didn’t cost me anything, I might try it.”

The fitness center will be the first for the community, where health disparities include heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension, according to CentroMed reports. The wellness center will be available to all area residents, including CentroMed patients whose health condition and/or treatment regimen require exercise.

Guzman received Medicaid and currently travels up to 90 minutes on the bus to see his doctor in downtown San Antonio. He said he travels to see him because they have been working on getting his high blood pressure and diabetes under control for the last four years.

“It’s hard to [keep up with] the right thing to do for [myself] when I see different doctors and nurses all the time,” Guzman said.

Saldaña said providing a stable medical home for Indian Creek residents will “pay back a debt of neglect that the community has seen for a long time.”

The primary care clinic services will include women’s health, pediatrics, family medicine, dental, and behavioral health, and is expected to serve 16,500 unduplicated patients annually and employ 59 staff members, including 11 physicians.

The wellness center is expected to enroll 4,000 members – both patients and community residents – and will employ 12 health and wellness professionals.

“If we care about the most vulnerable in the community,” Saldaña said, “we have to find a way to help them.”

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.