el rio health

Meet the Blue Angels of Tucson

How El Rio Health, founded during the 1960s 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 healthcare services for residents of Tucson — and by doing so helps strengthen and stabilize the neighborhoods where it operates and the people who live there.

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


125,000+ patients, about 10% of Tucson area residents, are treated annually at 13 locations 


22% of children in Tucson live below the poverty line


1 in 3 El Rio Health Center patients are children


70% of patients are on Medicaid or uninsured


38% of Pima County residents are Hispanic-Latino


40% of coronavirus cases in Pima County have been in the Hispanic-Latino community, the most of any other single racial/ethnic group


Sources: El Rio Health Center, Pima County Health Department, U.S. Census Bureau

Never was that truer than amidst the coronavirus. El Rio needed to adapt, and fast, to continue to serve Tucson residents and deliver care at a greater scale. Staff, who were sent home for safety, quickly learned 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. In 2021, those drive-through sites administered vaccines. 

To help El Rio with new technology and other resources it needed 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