El Rio Community Health Center will receive $5.5 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to build a new main clinic.

PHOTO: Fernanda Echavarri
El Rio Community Health Center

The announcement was made Thursday by Mary Wakefield, administrator of health resources for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She was in Tucson to tour the clinic that will soon be torn down.

“For many Americans, community health centers are the major source of care that ranges from prevention to treatment of chronic diseases,” Wakefield said.

PHOTO: Fernanda Echavarri
Kathy Byrne, El Rio's executive director, Mary Wakefield, administrator at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Nanci Aiken, El Rio board member.

El Rio serves mostly uninsured and underinsured patients in the Tucson area. Last year the health center served 76,190 patients, about 75 percent of them living below the federal poverty line, according to El Rio statistics.

El Rio’s Gomez building, 839 W. Congress St., was built in 1978 and can accommodate 7,000 patients, said Kathy Byrne, executive director for El Rio. Currently, El Rio sees about 15,000 people annually at that site.

“The federal grant for a new building is great news for the center and for the people that we serve,” Byrne said.

The El Rio grant is part of more than $728 million to support renovation and construction projects at more than 300 community health centers around the country as part of a series of capital investments funded by the Affordable Care Act.

The new clinic will bring construction jobs and health care jobs to Tucson, Wakefield said.

Construction of the new health clinic will begin next year and is expected to be completed in 2014.