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Puentes de Salud, a health clinic devoted to serving the Latino community in South Philadelphia, first formed in 2003 when an undergraduate student approached Steven Larson, an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine and doctor at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Photo: Nikhil Sheth / The Daily Pennsylvanian

Puentes de Salud – Bridges of Health – is celebrating its 10th year of providing healthcare access for the growing Latino population in South Philadelphia.

The organization was established in 2003 after an undergraduate student approached Steven Larson, an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine and doctor at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, about providing healthcare for a community of Latino immigrants who didn’t know how to access the healthcare system.

Larson, along with Jack Ludmir,the chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Pennsylvania Hospital, and Temple University assistant professor of medicine Matthew O’Brien, then established Puentes to address the issue.

The nonprofit organization now offers the South Philadelphia’s Latino immigrant population health care, educational programs, and community building services.

Up until 2006, Puentes only held health fairs, lectures and meetings to “gain [the] trust” of undocumented Latinos. The organization then began offering clinical care once a week at the former St. Agnes Hospital in partnership with the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

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Currently, the organization is planning to open a community health and wellness center at 1700 South Street. With over 6,500 square feet of space, Puentes is able to house all of its services in one place to better provide clinical care and educational services.

The organization has also expanded to offer multiple educational and social service programs for the Latino community. Programs include Puentes Hacia el Futuro, an after school mentoring program for elementary school children, and Promotora, a program designed to address health issues outside the clinic by having community members lead workshops, hold counseling sessions and participate in the organization’s research initiatives..

These programs aim to educate and empower Latinos who live in under-resourced communities. “They don’t have the luxury to get sick so there’s a tremendous incentive to be healthy,” Larson said.

Carla Paredes, a 2010 Nursing graduate who is the nursing coordinator and student co-chair of Puentes, emphasizes how the organization is different from the “traditional medical model” where the physician is at the top of hierarchy and the patient is at the bottom.

Related: Penn professor honored by Latino newspaper

“We try to make sure that it’s an even platform of everyone in partnership working together,” she said. “We really value that everyone has an equal presence and an equal voice in order to better serve our community.”

Peredes called the organization “extraordinary.”

“I just fell in love with the program as soon as I started it,” Nursing senior and long time Puentes volunteer Steven Cabrera said.“What better community to work with than the community of my own, the one I grew up with?”

The organization also has the support of the University. In 2009, Puentes was endorsed by past Penn Provost Ronald Daniels, who guaranteed to the organization unrestricted funding of $40,000 for three years.

Larson said he is extremely grateful for the support of Penn and many talented individuals involved with the organization over the years. To those who are looking to make a difference, he says, “Puentes is just a platform; bring your energy and gifts.”

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