Alvernia University and Berks Community Health Center (BCHC) partner to expand healthcare access for downtown Reading residents and develop a state-of-the-art community-based health center that will be housed at the former American House property (354 Penn Street), the university’s latest downtown addition to its Reading CollegeTowne campus.
“Alvernia’s investment in downtown Reading has sparked excitement and tangible change for our community,” said Alvernia University President Glynis A. Fitzgerald, Ph.D. “The addition of the former American House property allows our university to provide tremendous experiential learning opportunities for our health science, clinical counseling, and social work students and another valuable opportunity for community engagement, which is core to our mission. We look forward to helping increase access to affordable healthcare for Reading residents through this new partnership with the Berks Community Health Center.”
In addition to traditional primary care services, the Berks Community Health Center will offer mental health services, nutrition and wellness education, financial literacy education, social services assistance, and warm hand-off referrals. The site will also host clinical experiential learning opportunities for Alvernia’s students in healthcare science and social services programs. By providing primary care alongside various comprehensive wrap-around services, BCHC’s new Community Health Center will serve over 2,000 unduplicated individuals during the first year of operation.
“I stand here today proud of this new collaboration with Alvernia University,” said Berks Community Health Center President and CEO Mary Kargbo. “It not only provides BCHC yet another opportunity to increase access to care for our most vulnerable populations, but it also provides real-world clinical experiential learning for Alvernia students. This innovative collaboration will help BCHC in our quest to serve as many members of our community as we possibly can to improve the overall health of our community.”
Alvernia’s purchase of the former American House facility was finalized in June 2022 as part of the university’s second phase of the Reading CollegeTowne initiative. The second phase is highlighted by the expansion of the university’s renowned health science programs. It includes renovating the vacant second and third floors of the John R. Post Center to allow expanded academic programming space for the university’s newly-added Physician Associate Program and the nationally-ranked nursing programs in the John and Karen Arnold School of Nursing. The renovation of the Post Center also includes additional student housing on the fourth and fifth floors to allow more students to learn and live in downtown Reading.
“The addition of the community health center will provide our students with unparalleled interprofessional learning and training opportunities while reinforcing our university’s Franciscan mission of serving the underserved in our community,” said Alvernia University Dean of the College of Health Sciences Patricia Reger, Ph.D. “Our partnership with BCHC, coupled with our ongoing commitment to the heart of Reading, opens up exciting possibilities for the community and the University. It enables us to delve into the expansion of the health science programs, unlock fresh academic opportunities, draw more students into the downtown area, establish a talent pipeline for the community, and generate novel employment prospects.”
City of Reading residents are at risk of negative health outcomes due to elevated levels of poverty, traditionally marginalized populations, language and cultural barriers, and limited access to primary care services. Established in 2012, BCHC has made significant progress in promoting community health and wellness within the City of Reading, Berks County’s largest urban area. BCHC currently has four service locations in the city of Reading, but Reading’s downtown district has been identified as a high-need area. Alvernia and BCHC are working together to secure the funding for the renovations needed for the clinic. With successful fundraising, the new Health Center will open in the spring of 2025.
“With this agreement, we will not only further expand access to the many underserved residents of our city but will also provide critical real-world training to future healthcare professionals,” said Berks Community Health Center Board Member Nick Marmontello. “On behalf of the BCHC Board of Directors, we are very excited to be working with Alvernia University, and we believe partnerships like this one are critical as we work toward our common goal of improved community health.”
In addition to the clinic and academic programs, the American House property will provide additional business incubator space for the O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship and retail space for local businesses, including Artisan Smiles, a dentist currently located in the building. It is estimated that over 300 new jobs will be created through the student-powered business incubator.
The university launched the CollegeTowne initiative in Reading in late 2019. Since its launch, Alvernia purchased the John R. Post Center at Reading CollegeTowne, a 240,000-square-foot living and learning facility at 401 Penn Street in downtown Reading. During that time, the university has also assisted over 250 small and established businesses through the Spark Business Incubator and has spurred over 1.5 million square feet of transformation projects along the downtown corridor. These projects include the purchasing of the former Reading Eagle Company building, Madison Building, Santander Building, Wells Fargo Building, the Berkshire Building, and renovation of the 12-story Medical Arts Building. These projects add communal workspace and studios for new start-up businesses, a gym, retail establishments, restaurants, and family fun space for the city’s residents.