Just a year after its founding, the John Bell Health Center, operated by Philadelphia FIGHT, outgrew the former counseling and testing space it occupied on Locust Street.
FIGHT, a comprehensive AIDS service organization, welcomed dozens of community members Oct. 8 to the new clinic on the third floor of 1207 Chestnut St. The clinic, painted in bright fuchsia, primarily serves ex-offenders and people leaving jail or prison, a population at high risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis and other illnesses.
A portrait of John Bell, a renowned HIV/AIDS activist, hangs in the lobby next to a plaque with his quote, “Half of your rights haven’t been written yet because you haven’t been there to demand them.”
Jane Shull, executive director of FIGHT, said the center’s designation as a federally recognized health center has helped it grow.
“We’re going to be able to serve a lot more people [in the new building],” Shull said. “Most importantly, in this program here, we can treat people who are HIV-positive and -negative. Most people would agree, if we’re going to solve the AIDS epidemic, we really have to work on the prevention side.”
Volunteers led several tour groups through the new facility, which includes exam rooms, case-manager offices and a BenePhilly office to help people apply for health insurance or public benefits.
Patients can see any of several doctors: Franklin Yates, Elaina Tully or Jay Kostman. FIGHT is considering hiring another nurse practitioner, said Chip Alfred, director of development and communications.
Kostman, formerly the associate director of the Viral Hepatitis Center at the University of Pennsylvania, joined FIGHT in July, though he has involved himself in the organization in various capacities since the early 1990s, he said.
“I thought, This is the time to be in a place where I can really make a difference,” said Kostman, who ran his practice at Penn for 18 years. He also knew Bell, who died in 2012 at age 64.
“We want to make sure we’re an open, receptive place where people can feel comfortable coming in regardless of their circumstances,” Kostman said. “I’m a big believer in meeting people where they are.”
He added he went to local jails to give talks, so administrators could feel comfortable referring people to the John Bell Health Center when they finish their sentences. He emphasized the importance of uninterrupted medical care.
FIGHT officials consider the new facility a “one-stop shop.” On the second floor of the building sits the Institute for Community Justice, directed by Hannah Zellman.
Group meetings, classes and workshops take place on this floor. Four computer labs are open to anyone from 1-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. There are also laundry facilities.
“We’re better able to serve folks by providing more comprehensive and integrated services,” Zellman said, calling the cooperation between the John Bell Health Center and the Institute for Community Justice an “integrated medical home model.”
“We want to build community with folks so they’ll be able to live their best lives,” she said.
Kimberly Chiaramonte, MSS, counseling and testing supervisor, agreed that the new facility allows for easier patient referrals, particularly for high-risk people like partners of those who are HIV-positive.
FIGHT also maintains administrative offices and the Jonathan Lax Treatment Center at 1233 Locust St. and the Youth Health Empowerment Project, called Y-HEP, at 1417 Locust St. For more information, visit www.fight.org.