New Community Health Center Improves Care in Northeast Washington D.C.

Unity Health Care’s East of the River Health Center is providing an underserved neighborhood with medical care in a new multi-service facility.

For 20 years, Northeast Washington, D.C. residents could rely upon quality care from the East of the River Health Center medical staff, regardless of their ability to pay.

Today, that quality health care has a quality facility to match.

Unity Health Care has opened the doors to its new East of the River Health Center in the Conway Center facility, located across the street from the old facility, a temporary modular building that had far exceeded its life expectancy.

The old building and its 11 exam rooms has been upgraded to 43 modern exam rooms created just for the clinic in the new facility, providing the health care provider with the ability to serve four times more patients than was previously possible, reducing wait time while improving overall medical capabilities.

WSP USA served as the mechanical-electrical-plumbing engineer and provided fire protection services as well to Gensler, architect for the new building project. WSP was contracted through Capital Project Management (CPM), a local project management firm with a history for delivering community healthcare projects in collaboration with WSP.

It was a long journey from the start of the design process in 2016 to the opening of a game-changing new building, but Sean Hu, WSP project manager, said that it was well worth the effort.

“Being a D.C. resident myself, anytime WSP allows me to take part in a project that benefits the city means a lot to me,” Hu said. “Projects like this might not be the biggest ones we do as a company, but sometimes it is the smaller projects like this that can mean the most to the people in those communities. It’s special for us to have the opportunity to shape and be engaged in the places we live.”


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The new front entrance of the Unity Healthcare East of the River building.

Unusual Structure

WSP was responsible for designing the heating-ventilation-air conditioning systems, lighting, gas, plumbing, and building control systems. The firm developed systems that not only met the needs of the users, but worked within the scope of the existing base building systems, and satisfied the project’s unique stakeholder structure.

With two health systems – Unity Healthcare and Howard University Hospital – occupying the space and sharing infrastructure, WSP helped the client develop an IT strategy to create a point of demarcation between the technology systems that support patient information systems. This included engineering systems dedicated to each health system’s infrastructure, and physical separation and security to restrict access.

“The East of the River project brings a point-of-care facility directly to an area that would otherwise be lacking,” Hu said. “Coordination with the owner’s imaging equipment vendors and dental equipment consultants was key to delivering the radiology and dental programs for the facility.”

The project wasn’t without its challenges. As construction was beginning in early 2017, an unexpected funding change suspended the project. Even as construction was delayed, WSP remained active and engaged with the owner, so that when construction resumed in late 2017, everyone on the team was ready to move forward.

“Community projects such as this one often have an unusual stakeholder structure,” Hu said. “Funding often comes from various sources, and many organizations have a hand in ensuring its delivery, but there can be unexpected delays when things don’t go according to plan.”



Across the street from the new facility sits the modular building that served as the home for Unity Healthcare East of the River Health Center for more than two decades.

Healthy Partnerships

The 40,000-square-foot community health care clinic came to fruition through a partnership between Unity Health and another strong community organization, the nonprofit So Others May Eat. The project required collaboration with several owner stakeholders, including So Others May Eat, Unity Health Leadership, Howard University Leadership, and Howard University project management.

“Delivering a design that meets the goals and needs of these parties takes a high level of communication and understanding of expectations, as the goals may differ between stakeholders,” Hu said.

Programs at Unity Health East of the River include primary care, mental health, rehabilitation, radiology, dental, women’s health, pharmacy, and laboratory services. In 2018, an addition to the project design introduced a Howard University clinic to the facility that provides women’s health, ophthalmology and additional radiology programs.

“Unity Health and So Others May Eat are now co-located in a neighborhood previously underserved in healthcare and community outreach programs,” Hu said. “Unity Health brings significant social and cultural impact to the Washington D.C. community, and this collaboration only furthers that impact.”

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