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From hymns to health: Shuttered Northside church gets new life as community health center

Last Updated 2 weeks by Amnon J. Jobi | Amnon Front Page

A cardiologist is on a mission to improve community health in Northside.

Shes doing it in a place you might not expect: a former church building.

North Presbyterian Church opened its doors in the 1850s. When it went up for sale in 2022, Dr. Florence Rothenberg took the opportunity to turn the place of hymns into a place of health.

People now have to travel to a physicians office to seek healthcare, she said. Thats been a real barrier for a lot of people.

Rothenberg said many of the cardiovascular problems she sees in her patients stem from the result of their lifestyle. For example, unhealthy eating, a lack of exercise and a lack of regular interactions with a health care professional.

That was the reasoning behind the creation of The Heart of Northside. It turns the former church into a community health center, focused on three goals:

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improve access to fresh produce by growing it on-site, improve health literacy through classes and individual counseling, and improve community health through listening and outreach.

No one is really doing anything like this, she said. I dont have a roadmap, so Im just trying to figure all of this out.

Unlike traditional medicine, Rothenbergs facility is aimed at preventative care. The mission is to bring healthy lifestyle options to where the community already is. That means identifying potential barriers and eliminating them.

Im trying to put the health in their path of daily living so they cant avoid it, she said.

The buildings available facilities have been repurposed to support the needs of the community. The pastors old library is now a space for the Black mens support group. The old Paris-themed creperie is envisioned to be a monitored exercise area for cardiovascular rehab. The old choir room, with the risers still installed, is now home to a music therapist who started her practice here.

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Rothenbergs for-profit company, Heart in Balance, oversees the event spaces and the upkeep of the more than 150-year-old building. Her nonprofits and the other practitioners who use the space help provide funds that carry out the mission.

They dont teach you how to fundraise in cardiology school, she said. Thats something Im having to learn.

Medical students will help track success, she said. A study is beginning to track the rate of heart attacks and stroke in the 45223 zip code. Rothenberg said shes hoping to make a reduction, to prove that every neighborhood needs a community health center like this.

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Starting Wednesday, July 3, the organization will have a blood pressure station set up at the farmers market. Rothenberg said its an example of meeting the community where they already are.

Well not only be checking blood pressure but also educating people about what they can do to become healthier to control their blood pressure, said Rothenberg. Health literacy is an important component of what were doing.

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