Construction carried on in the background as people from UF Health, local government and the East Gainesville community gathered for a commemorative signing for a new urgent care center. UF Health Urgent Care Center–Eastside, a collaboration between UF Health, the city and the county, is expected to open in mid-2024.
The 9,000-square-foot facility near the intersection of SE 21st Street and Hawthorne Road is part of the city and county’s joint initiative to help support growth in East Gainesville.
Mayor Harvey Ward, Alachua County Commissioner Ken Cornell, Gainesville Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut and other local dignitaries were present to sign a banner that will become a plaque to affix on a wooden beam in the center. Cornell and Ward both spoke, advocating for their own hopes for Eastside to grow.
Ward, who grew up in East Gainesville, said he has watched as businesses have moved away from that side of town, and he wants to turn that trend around. He said over $20 million will be invested into stimulating Eastside, between the city of Gainesville, UF Health, Alachua County and the federal government.
Gainesville and Alachua County each contributed $2.25 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to the center’s total $5.7 million cost.
“We’re working hand in hand with our community partners and with our neighbors,” Ward said in his speech. “This is what effective partnership looks like. This is what community leadership looks like. This is what a promise kept looks like. This is what hope looks like.”
The urgent care center will feature eight examination rooms, two procedure rooms, X-ray facilities and a community room. The community room brings a unique aspect of flexibility, as it can be used for medical education, community education and as a community group meeting space.
“At the end of the day, this center belongs to you, the Eastside community,” Dr. Marvin Dewar, chief executive officer and chief medical officer of UF Health Physicians, said in a speech. “And what it really becomes, is now up to you… We’ve done some work, and now we get to sit back and kind of see how you make use of a community room.”
Dr. David Nelson, senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health, said the center represents the re-emergence of a partnership between UF Health and East Gainesville, rebuilding the trust lost when Alachua General Hospital closed in 2009. He said UF Health held at least four listening sessions, hearing the “good, the bad and the ugly” of Eastside’s opinions on UF Health. Though relations with the community may have been strained, Nelson said he hopes the urgent care center will be the beginning of a journey of renewed trust.
“We know we have to stay in our lane, there’s only so much we can do,” Nelson said in an interview. “But… this is hopefully the start. And we hope [for] other healthcare opportunities, that we and others can take advantage of both the infrastructure as well as the momentum that a project like this, and a partnership like this, creates.”
Nelson said the commemorative signing allows everyone who has contributed their voice to the project to leave their mark, even though they cannot help with the physical construction.
Amelia Hall is a member of the Eastside community, and an attendee of input sessions at Lincoln Middle School, where the community told officials what they wanted, and UF Health told Eastside what it was able to do. She said she feels that her voice has been heard and that she hopes the center will help her community take better care of its health, both mental and physical.
“I’m so, so excited,” Hall said. “Not only for myself, just for the east side of Gainesville, because whatever they have on the west side of town, we need that over here on this side of town.”