While the Civil Rights movement gave voice to those seeking access to healthcare services for all people, that conversation continues to be a topic of national debate and contention. From the 1960s when free clinics began to open in underserved neighborhoods around the country, a network of federally funded health care centers set out to provide state-of-the-art health and wellness services to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay.
In 1968 the Homewood-Bruston Neighborhood Health Center opened as one of the first Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in the country. Shortly thereafter, in 1973, a group led by Richard Adams and Sam Thompson raised $1.8 million to create a comprehensive health center housing an administration office, a pharmacy, X-Ray unit, laboratory, referral services, mental health support, and social services. Primary Care Health Services, Inc (PCHS), a private community-based non-profit corporation was later formed in 1976.
In 1977, the Homewood-Bruston Neighborhood Health Center was renamed the Alma Illery Medical Center to honor the civic leader and community champion and has been a cornerstone for East End neighborhoods ever since. Dr. Illery was a leader in advocating for racial integration in hospitals long before fair-employment practice laws and civil-rights protests erupted nationally. She fought tirelessly to eliminate prejudice in the healthcare sector and her legacy lives on daily through the center’s mission and vision.
Also in 1977, Wilford A. Payne took the small, struggling Alma Illery Medical Center “for the poor” and began building it into the largest network of private clinics in Allegheny County. He helped elevate the state and national conversation regarding the health center movement. Mr. Payne was an anchor in promoting access and equity in health care for over four decades in the Pittsburgh region and beyond. Because of his work, thousands of people have received quality health care.