A local health-services organization will soon begin to address the needs of the area’s younger patients.
Philadelphia FIGHT is set to launch its Pediatric and Adolescent Health Center next month. Patients will be able to take advantage of same-day appointments, routine checkups, sick visits, physicals, immunizations, an onsite social worker and benefits coordinator and mental-health screenings.
“The Pediatric and Adolescent Health Center at Philadelphia FIGHT is dedicated to providing high-quality, comprehensive, primary care to address the physical, emotional and sexual health needs of inner-city children and youth from birth through age 13, regardless of ability to pay,” the website’s description reads. “We recognize that inner-city children have unique needs and deserve the highest quality of care.”
Dr. Mario Cruz, a board-certified pediatrician, will take the lead as medical director of the new program, which will be located on the fifth floor of FIGHT, at 1207 Chestnut St. Cruz previously worked as an academic pediatrician at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children for nine years.
“Oftentimes, people are stuck in a situation where they have to choose to take care of themselves or take care of their child,” Cruz said. “If you have a visit with your own doctor in one part of the city and your pediatrician in another part, something has to give. You can’t do those both in the same date. So, by building pediatric services here at FIGHT, we have the opportunity to decrease the burden of healthcare on families so they can get everything at one site.”
In addition to providing medical services, Cruz is also collaborating with architects to renovate the new facilities. The floor will include six gender-inclusive restrooms and colorful kid-friendly designs.
“I want everybody to come in and feel welcome,” Cruz said. “If you’re a billionaire, if you have no money, if you’re gay, you’re straight — I want you to walk in and feel like you belong there.”
Cruz said there is a “huge need” for trauma-informed services. He works off the assumption that every patient or family who walks through FIGHT’s doors has been through some type of life obstacle. This can include poverty and violence but also the financial and emotional issues same-sex couples experience when trying to have children.
“By the time they come to see me, they have been through a lot just to walk through that door. I recognize that, and my job is to give those families a little bit more TLC.”
Cruz said he also intends to collect data on patient wait times and that if families are not seen within a reasonable time frame, he will lead charges to revise interoffice processes.
“There’s no reason in the world why anyone should be in our office for more than 90 minutes for a visit. I know two hours is standard for a lot of places but that seems ludicrous to me. You’re only seeing me for 15 minutes, maybe 20. So why would you be in the office for an hour and a half?”
Cruz grew up in the South Bronx in New York City, which he said had high levels of drug use and crime. He said that after he got into medical school, he fell in love with St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, where he served his residency before working full-time.
“I knew that if I went there for my residency training in Philadelphia, I could learn what I needed to do to be an effective advocate for kids,” he said.
Cruz called his new position at FIGHT a “dream come true.”
“I know what it’s like to grow up in a difficult situation so I said that if I ever get a chance to do something, I’m going to make sure I help kids who grew up like me.”