In the late 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “War on Poverty” and the concept of neighborhood health centers was born.
Against this national backdrop, local advocates on the west and south sides of Tucson were building new communities in the barrios and fighting for basic services including healthcare.
At the same time, the founding dean of the new College Of Medicine at the University of Arizona – Dr. Merlin DuVal – wanted a new way to train young medical students and saw that a neighborhood health center would provide that opportunity while serving the healthcare needs of the underserved. He enlisted the help of Dr. Herb Abrams who had already worked with a community in Chicago to build one of the first centers there. Abrams connected with local leaders in the barrios and enlisted their support.
With the donation of a building by Pima County and $50,000 for renovations, along with a federal grant, the first El Rio neighborhood health center opened in October of 1970 with a small staff of health professionals offering primary medical and dental care.