Health care access, new internet service, parklet progress discussed in Allentown
Access to health care, a new parklet, the fate of an anchor business and innovative solution to internet access for businesses were topics discussed at the Allentown Community Development Corp’s (ACDC) May public meeting.
Peter Kaufmann, a certified application counselor for the Marketplace, and Dr. John Barczynski, associate executive director, for the Hilltop Community Health Center (HCHC) presented information about the health center. The center has been located in the lower portion of the former South Hills High School at 151 Ruth Street since 2014.
Services offered at the center include adult medicine, pediatrics, nutrition counseling and acupuncture and laser therapy for a non-opioid approach to pain management.
Dr. Barczynski has been at the center’s main site, Sto-Rox Family Health Center, for nearly 35 years.
He said the organization gets some federal funding, allowing them to provide services on a sliding scale. Although no one is turned away for ability to pay, it isn’t considered a free clinic.
“If someone can’t pay, we try to work with them. There is a sliding scale, that way the amount would be more reasonable for folks that fall into that category,” Dr. Barczynski said.
When he first come to the South Pittsburgh center Mr. Kaufmann looked at the location and realized, “Whoa, that’s a big hill there to climb up.”
“And I’m seeing a mother with her three children there, in the winter time, trying to conquer this hill. It’s almost an impossible task,” he added.
Noticing that the 43 Bailey bus line comes up Beltzhoover, turns on Kathleen and has a stop on Ruth Street, one and a half blocks from the health center. To get to that point from Allentown, Beltzhoover or Knoxville it takes two buses, he added.
Just that day, to help lower expenses for people coming to the health center, they were able to sign a contract with Travelers Aid to provide bus tickets for qualified patients.
Further discussions are continuing with Travelers Aid to provide Uber rides especially for child wellness appointments after birth to and from the HCHC.
“This is not written in stone yet,” Mr. Kaufmann said. If they are able to make the arrangements, the Sto-Rox and Hilltop locations would be a pilot program.
If the three communities don’t have access to health care, it’s an issue, he added. “Why does someone have to suffer because of that hill?”
In McKees Rocks, they are opening a one-stop shop for referrals and service providers that will be available for Hilltop residents also. More than 32 providers of health care, employment services, child care and more will be available there. The facility is expected to be open in September.
The Sto-Rox Family Health Center, 710 Thompson Avenue, McKees Rocks, PA 15136, will have an open house on June 17, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. All the service providers will be there in addition to fun family activities.
Asked if they provided mental health services on the Hilltop, Dr. Barczynski said they have a therapist on site one day a week and a psychiatrist at the Sto-Rox site. If need increases they will bring more mental health services to the HCHC.
Jolie Valentine provided an update on the parklet project she has undertaken in the 800 block of E. Warrington Avenue, in the vacant lot next to Piasano’s.
Ms. Valentine said she recently received a grant worth up to $10,000 in assistance from G-TECH to help develop the parklet. It will help in planning and building the space in a sustainable manner.
Plans include repairing the sidewalk in front and leveling the lot. Grass seed or clover will be planted for ground cover. A fence with an entrance will be placed in front and planter boxes in the interior. A small shed will be erected for the restaurant’s trash cans.
A project in cooperation with the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center and community members will make stepping stones to be placed within the parklet.
Eventually, she said they hope to incorporate benches so people are able to sit in the parklet.
The project will be starting soon. Last week they were deciding where fill dirt would be needed.
When completed, people will be able to use the space from dawn to dusk. However, during night hours there will be solar powered security lights.
Adam Longwill, executive director of Meta Mesh in Allentown, said they are planning to bring more connectivity to the business district. Citing problems with cost and “spotty” service, Meta Mesh is looking to provide business class wireless internet service along E. Warrington Avenue.
He said it will be possible by purchasing access to a fiber-optic cable running along the avenue. Businesses will then be able to use a wireless router to connect to the internet. Mr. Longwill said they are still working out details, including what the cost would be to individual businesses and how 24-hour tech service will be provided.
He stressed the service will be available only to businesses.
In addition, he said it will allow them to push more bandwidth into the Pitt Mesh free public wifi service available along E. Warrington Avenue.
Mr. Longwill said they need commitments from about 12 businesses to agree to the service to continue. He would like to be up and running by the end of summer.
Barry Stein, owner of the building with the Family Dollar in Allentown, also addressed the group on the future of the store.
He explained when Family Dollar was sold to Dollar Tree they were required to divest of a number of stores. The Allentown store was among 300 that went to a company called Dollar Express, which took over operation of the store. In turn, Dollar Express sold those 300 stores to Dollar General.
Mr. Stein said the Warrington Avenue store will be closed on June 30 for a week or two of restocking and transition.
“It will be more to the Dollar General concept, very similar,” he added. “It will be very much the same. That store will not be closed.”
Mr. Stein said the new owners have signed a long-term lease for the store.
Mr. Stein said although they have a maintenance company for the building, he will engage a local person to sweep up the outside of the building.