el rio health

Meet the Blue Angels of Tucson

How El Rio Health, founded during the 1960’s social justice movement, adapted to serve residents through coronavirus

As the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s inspired many across the United States, history was being made in Tucson, Arizona. There, a small coalition of social justice activists began working with the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine to improve healthcare services in the city’s most underserved communities. Together, and with support from the city of Tucson and Lyndon Johnson’s Economic Opportunity Act, they were able to convert a 12-room juvenile detention center into Tucson’s first community health clinic: El Rio Santa Cruz Neighborhood Health Center.

More than fifty years later, El Rio Health continues to provide greater access to health care services for residents of Tucson. “The community literally brings its problems to our doorstep,” says El Rio CEO, Nancy Johnson. “And that gives us a unique opportunity to help strengthen and stabilize neighborhoods and the people in them.”

El Rio Health Center by the numbers

El Rio Health Center By the Numbers


1970 El Rio Health Center founded in the wake of the War on Poverty. “Our roots are in health equity and social justice.” — CEO Nancy Johnson


50% Initial drop in inpatient visits after coronavirus began


1,000 Average tele-health visits per week since program ramped up last spring


70% How many patients surveyed say would likely use tele-health post-coronavirus


66% of patients are on Medicaid or uninsured. “We take care of the vulnerable, fragile people in our community.”


113,564 patients, about 13% of Tucson area residents, are treated annually at 12 locations


17,000+ Tests have been conducted at clinics and via three drive-through coronavirus testing sites


14,000 Homeless residents served by El Rio’s street medicine team and outreach sites


30% of coronavirus cases in Pima County are in the Hispanic-Latino community, the most of any other single racial/ethnic group

Never has that been more true than today, amidst the coronavirus. El Rio needed to adapt, and fast, to continue to serve Tucson residents and a greater scale. Staff, who were sent home for safety, needed to quickly learn how to use a new telehealth platform to provide care remotely. El Rio had to build and manage new drive-through testing sites, upgrade electronic check-in kiosks and deliver iPads to a hotel housing the homeless so doctors and nurses could remain in touch. To help El Rio with new technology and other resources it needs to adapt and continue its community services, Bank of America provided the organization with a $50,000 grant, part of the bank’s $100 million commitment to support local communities in need.

As nonprofits adjust to addressing increased needs in their local communities, Bank of America is committed to supporting them. Learn more about the bank’s $100 million philanthropic commitment to more than 1,300 nonprofits on the front lines, which is in addition to the company’s annual $250 million in philanthropic giving, as well as its $250 million capital commitment to assist local businesses.


Originally published 09/18/2020