Tucked into a nondescript building on the east side of Hance Park sits a vital resource for vulnerable populations in the Downtown community. 

To the average light rail passerby, the building is only distinguishable by the Black History Month mural by Local artist Lucretia Torva. 

This building houses the Parsons Center for Health and Wellness, and it’s a lifeline for primary healthcare, from filling prescriptions to providing primary and mental health services and treatment plans for HIV/AIDS. 

“We aim to be a “one-stop” shop where patients can meet most of their healthcare needs in one location,” said Iris Avila, Southwest Center’s Director of Marketing and Community Engagement. “Each patient is at a different stage in their health journey, and we take the time to listen to them and create a personalized plan.” 

Southwest Center works with one of six other providers (Genoa Healthcare, GLSEN Arizona, Valleywise Health, Greater Phoenix Equality Chamber of Commerce, One-n-Ten, and Phoenix Gay Men’s Chorus) to provide an inclusive place inside Parsons’ walls. More than a decade ago, they were located at 12th Street and McDowell, a cramped and isolated facility outside the Downtown core. 

The staff of the Southwest Center, the Parson Center for Health and Wellness’s anchor tenant, outside the facility. (Photo Courtesy of Southwest Center)

In 2010, they finally outgrew their old location. At about the same time, 12 News put its 55,000-square-foot broadcasting facility at Central Ave. and Portland St., its home for more than 50 years, on the market.

The timing worked perfectly to serve the community in a convenient location, connected by an adjacent light rail stop. 

“When we first stepped in there, we knew it was the building for us so our clients wouldn’t have to worry about transportation,” said Carol Poore, the Southwest Center’s former CEO and President, in a 2023 City-Shapers interview. “In health care, the underserved can’t get to an appointment if they don’t have the means to get there.” 

The relocation efforts were bolstered by $3.6 million in allocated funding from the 2006 General Obligation (GO) Bond to build or acquire a new community health center. An additional $5 million grant from the newly formed Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation helped to open the project in November 2013.  

The lobby of the Parsons Center for Health and Wellness in Downtown Phoenix. The facility includes numerous healthcare components, from a clinic, pharmacy, to a safe space for couples to discuss relationships. (Photo Courtesy of Southwest Center)

Today, four PCA-Member organizations operate within the Parsons Center for Health and Wellness, including the Southwest Center: 

-The Greater Phoenix Equality Chamber of Commerce has helped foster inclusive business environments for the LGBTQ+ community through a roster of supportive Members. As one of the nation’s oldest LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce organizations, their signature fundraising events that support equality include the Annual Hero Awards, Queer Holiday Market, tabled by LGBTQIA+ artists, and Festival of Trees, which provides the opportunity to bid on decorated trees and wreaths. 

-In 2017, a fire inside One-N-Ten‘s former facility necessitated the relocation of much of its administrative and essential programming. Today, its 5,000-square-foot youth center is an inclusive refuge for LGBTQIA+ teenagers and young adults navigating familial and societal challenges to find confidence within themselves. A $275,000 gift from the Parsons Foundation made the move possible. 

-On the second floor, the Valleywise Community Health Center serves locals as both a general practitioner, including dental and mental health care, and an HIV clinic, which provides HIV testing and other essential care. 

Southwest Center drew inspiration for its current setup from comparable models in Los Angeles and Chicago, which focus on HIV/AIDS within their LGBTQ+ community centers. These community centers were similarly warm and inviting and brought people inside with activities and art spaces. 

They balance many functions beyond their core mission as a healthcare haven for the LGBTQIA+ community as a comprehensive general clinic with a diverse care team of healthcare providers, therapists, and Family and Psychiatric Nurses. 

One-n-Ten’s 5,000-square-foot youth center is an inclusive refuge for LGBTQIA+ teenagers and young adults navigating familial and societal challenges to find confidence within themselves. (Photo Courtesy of One-n-Ten)

Partially due to geography, they will always be at the forefront of case management for people with HIV/AIDS. Maricopa County is a hotspot for the virus, and the Southwest is the largest tester for HIV and STI infections. 

The City of Phoenix partnered with Southwest Center on a Fast-Track Initiative, a declaration to ensure HIV/AIDS is no longer a public health threat by 2030. In keeping with this goal, they can start a patient on medication the same day as a diagnosis. 

Yet, for all the services offered, the Parsons Center is still the best-kept secret for affordable, inclusive health care in Downtown. 

“We’re hoping to change that,” said Avila. “We are working on expanding our reach so those seeking inclusive health and wellness services can find us. Every Arizonan can enjoy the very best health by removing healthcare obstacles.” 

On Friday, October 4, Southwest Center will hold its annual reception and awards ceremony, INSPIRE 2024. The ceremony recognizes the contributions of local luminaries and offers a sneak peek at what the organization has planned for the year ahead. The event allows the center to continue to provide free and reduced-cost healthcare through the Richard P. Stahl Client Care Fund.

The view of the Parsons Center for Health and Wellness from Central Avenue. Prior its adaptive reuse, 12 News occupied the 55,000-square-foot broadcasting facility. (Photo Courtesy of Holly Street Studio)

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