Neighborhood Health Action Centers

The Neighborhood Health Action Centers is an upcoming City initiative to increase clinical and non-clinical community-based programs in neighborhoods with disproportionally high rates of chronic disease and premature death. The Action Centers, slated to launch in late 2016, will operate in renovated spaces of currently underutilized City-owned buildings, providing much-needed quality and suitable space for experienced community-based organizations and Health Department staff to work together in a coordinated manner to advance neighborhood health.


The City’s history of employing neighborhood-based public health approaches to reduce health inequities across the five boroughs dates back to the successful District Health Center Movement that started in Manhattan almost 100 years ago. In partnership with the American Red Cross, the City established a pilot program in East Harlem — a neighborhood with unmet health needs and high burden of disease — that co-located health, welfare agencies and community-based organizations under the same roof so that they could work together in hyper-targeted coordination and planning to improve the health of the community. Over a 10 year period, the pilot demonstrated a decrease in infant deaths and an increase in life expectancy. With such great outcomes, the City decided to expand the East Harlem model and to create 30 District Health Buildings in high-need neighborhoods across the city.

Unfortunately, due to changes in public and health care systems delivery and political leadership, the true intention of the District Health Centers was lost over time.

In 2002, then Deputy Commissioner Mary Bassett, sought to bring the focus back to neighborhoods deprived of resources by establishing District Public Health Offices (DPHOs) in the South Bronx, East and Central Harlem, and North and Central Brooklyn. The District Public Health Offices have worked to promote health equity and reduce health disparities across New York City by targeting resources, programs, and attention to these neighborhoods.

From DPHOs to Neighborhood Health Action Centers

The DPHOs now have long histories in their communities, and are seen as trusted leaders, which allows them to play a critical role in bringing together the stakeholders needed to address health inequities in our neighborhoods, including government policymakers, health professionals, researchers, and community groups. The District Public Health Offices provide an array of critical public health programs, including:

  • Nutrition and Physical Activity programs to raise awareness of unhealthy food marketing and healthy food and drink options in stores, hospitals and schools.
  • Teen Sexual Health programs to promote evidence-based sexual health education and pregnancy prevention to schools, youth organizations, parents and local leaders.
  • Maternal Health programs to support and provide education to mothers on infant health and safety issues, pair doulas (trained childbirth assistants) with pregnant women, and work with local residents and organizations to promote breastfeeding.
  • Asthma care services to help children and families, including providing pest-control services in homes of children with asthma, and education and outreach to improve asthma-related policies.

Neighborhood Health Action Centers

Building on this strong foundation, the Health Department is now creating Neighborhood Health Action Centers, under an updated model that reinvents the old neighborhood health movement to meet the 21st Century, thus shifting from the traditional model of primary care which addresses individual health needs, to an integrated holistic and public health approach to primary care.

The Action Centers will offer space for the Health Department, high-quality health care providers, community-based organizations and other non-profits to co-exist and engage in the planning, coordination and advocacy that are critical to address the often complex and multiple needs of communities burdened with higher rates of chronic diseases. Their goals include:

  • Expanding high-quality clinical care in order to address the largest drivers of the higher premature mortality rates in certain neighborhoods – heart disease, HIV and drug-related deaths
  • Linking residents to critical social support services and health education to advance patient treatment, utilizing Neighborhood Navigators to coordinate care
  • Addressing root causes of health inequity, including the physical environment, structural racism, housing and employment
  • Reducing duplication of efforts and closing service gaps by coordinating the efforts of the many clinical and community-based partners working in each neighborhood

Neighborhood Health Action Centers will provide:

  • Primary care, mental health care and, in some cases, dental care
  • Critical health and wellness classes and programs
  • Community space for groups to work on neighborhood health planning
  • Links to social services

Three of the Action Center locations – Brownsville, East Harlem and Tremont – are currently being renovated to open to the public in 2016.