The sky in a southeast Fresno neighborhood surrounded by 40 food processing plants was uncommonly blue. Some say it was a rare day for clean air.
Several Amazon trucks zoom by, presumably to the fulfillment center three miles away.
Most of the time, residents near Jensen and Cedar avenues, adjacent to the community of Calwa, experience the brunt of pollution and its associated health effects.
In a matter of months, construction will start on a new United Health Centers clinic, across the street from Calwa Elementary School. It is one of two clinics funded in part by $10 million in federal CARES funds distributed through the city of Fresno.
Fresno City Councilman Luis Chavez said a health center will help plant employees who live in zip codes hit especially hard during the pandemic.
“A lot of folks, unfortunately, got sick. And one of the reasons that that happened and the problem became quite as big as it did in the zip codes is because of the lack of access to quality healthcare,” Chavez said.
Chavez estimates 44,000 people live in southeast Fresno zip codes that are income-eligible for free healthcare services but go unserved.
Locations Close to Those Impacted Most by Pollution
The new locations were picked to help the greatest number of residents needing healthcare.
“We’re very intentional in putting these healthcare services where they’ve been needed for decades and being thoughtful that it’s around the most vulnerable workers that are essential,” said councilman Miguel Arias, who represents southwest Fresno.
Community activist Debbie Darden, with the Golden Westside Planning Committee, said healthcare services are needed in southeast and west Fresno.
“We want to thank our city council people and United Health for taking the time to once again right some of the wrongs and bring in the resources that the community has so often asked for,” Darden said.
Justin Preas, deputy chief executive officer with United Health Centers of the San Joaquin Valley, says groundbreaking for the southeast Fresno facility will start in about five months, with an opening by the end of 2023.
UHC is closing escrow on a location in west Fresno, at California and Walnut avenues, near Edison High School. Building both will cost up to $19 million.
The $10 million, approved by the city council in 2020, is important, Preas said.
“It would make it very difficult to do it because construction is obviously extremely expensive and then healthcare construction is even more expensive,” Preas said.
Healthcare and Jobs
The buildings will be 12,000 square feet each and provide several types of healthcare services. Preas estimates the locations will generate 100 new jobs on top of any economic benefits from construction.
“It’s really a healthcare home for the people that live in the communities that we serve,” Preas said.
Another clinic — not funded by the city — at Kings Canyon and Minnewawa avenues will open on April 25. Currently, UHC operates 25 centers in the Central Valley, with five in the city of Fresno.