Groundbreaking Collaboration: New Neighborhood Health Center a Transformational Step in Las Vegas Trail Revitalization
By Ashley Antle
On Nov. 14, 2023, leaders from Cook Children’s Health Care System stood side-by-side with representatives from JPS Health Network, the City of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, LVTRise and WestAid Community Resources to break ground on the Las Vegas Trail Neighborhood Health Center.
The center, located on 3.7 donated acres at the corner of Calmont Avenue and Cherry Lane in west Fort Worth, will be home to various pediatric and adult medical and social services as well as a Fort Worth Police storefront.
The two-story, 40,000-square-foot Las Vegas Trail Neighborhood Health Center will open in late 2025. The addition is another step in the vision of city leaders, local nonprofits and health care partners to transform Fort Worth’s struggling Las Vegas Trail (LVT) neighborhood into a safe, healthy community with vital resources that support residents’ ability to live, work and play.
"To see real change you have to make focused investments. Building off of the success of the City's Neighborhood Improvement Program, we've seen the incredible domino effect that can happen when you work with a community to make targeted investments that will make the biggest difference,” said Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker. “The Las Vegas Trail Neighborhood Health Center is the next great example of what years of focus and support can do to lift up a community, creating healthier and more vibrant futures for the families that call it home."
There are currently limited primary health care facilities and mental health resources close to the homes of LVT residents. For the more than 20,000 children ages 0 to 14 living in the area, access to pediatric providers for well-child checks and childhood vaccinations is insufficient. The same is true for adult health services for diabetes management or cardiovascular care, for example. As a result, many delay preventative care, or they tend to visit an emergency room for illnesses that could have easily and more cost effectively been cared for and managed in a primary care physician office.
In 2021, the two zip codes that encompass the Las Vegas Trail area generated more than 4,000 visits to Cook Children’s Emergency Department and Urgent Care Centers that were considered primary care rather than emergencies or urgent situations. An additional 6,200 patients were cared for in one of Cook Children’s seven other neighborhood health center locations, none of which are easily accessible from Las Vegas Trail, especially for those with transportation challenges.
“When we look at where to open a neighborhood clinic we consider where we can make the biggest impact based on a number of factors, including current and future population growth, existing resources in the area, socio-economic status and ER utilization from the particular zip codes we’re considering,” said Veronica Tolley, vice president of Primary and Specialty Services at Cook Children’s. “We’ve evaluated placing a clinic in Las Vegas Trail for some time. Once the land was gifted, it all came together for a really unique partnership that is the first of its kind for Cook Children’s.”
A Slow Decline
There was a time when Fort Worth’s Las Vegas Trail neighborhood was a vibrant, bustling community. Daily life and commerce centered around the neighborhood’s hub, the former U.S. air support training facility known as Carswell Air Force Base. Single-family homes and apartments built to support the base were home to military families from across the country.
In 1993, the base closed. With it went the neighborhood's anchor for groceries, health care and entertainment. The civilian businesses that supported Carswell families and workers followed suit, gutting the community of jobs and essentials for daily life.
Without this vital infrastructure the neighborhood spiraled into decline and became a hotbed for crime. Despite representing just 1% of Fort Worth’s population, LVT experiences 4% of the city’s crime. The median household income in Las Vegas Trail sits at $31,495, nearly half that of the City of Fort Worth, putting 32% of residents living there below the poverty level. Apartments account for 84% of the community’s housing, some of them falling into disrepair. Most children living in the area are being raised by single parents, according to the Neighborhood Transformation Plan published by LVTRise.
The neighborhood is both a food and health care desert. It lacks key factors that often support an individual’s overall health, such as safety, economic stability, parenting and family support, access to quality health care, nutritious food sources and places that encourage physical activity.
Michael D. Crain, Fort Worth City Councilman for District 3, remembers a time when the LVT community was a vibrant one. His aunt lived in the neighborhood in the 1980s, and he has fond memories of spending time with her there.
"Over the years, as services became scarce and the population density increased, the area experienced a decline," expressed Councilman Crain. "However, it's important to acknowledge the remarkable individuals who call that place home. Realizing the pressing needs, it was imperative for us to prioritize and find ways to support the residents who live there."
On the Rise
In 2017, city leaders and concerned neighbors took note following a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article detailing the plight of Las Vegas Trail. Paige Charbonnet, executive director of LVTRise, was one of them. Charbonnet grew up nearby and now lives in neighboring Ridglea Hills.
“We live less than 10 minutes away, and I read the article and I thought, you know, I can read the article and move on with my day, or I could roll up my sleeves and do something,” Charbonnet said. “So I started volunteering at the primary school.”
At the same time, city leaders began holding listening sessions and town hall meetings with community members to hear their needs and concerns. Three common themes emerged: the desire for health, safety and community.
Charbonnet’s volunteerism morphed into community activism. She joined city leaders and other concerned citizens to address the needs of the neighborhood. Their efforts gave birth to a plan to transform the LVT community, and led to the formation of LVTRise, a non-profit dedicated to the revitalization and sustainability of the Las Vegas Trail community.
“What we do is amplify the voice of the neighborhood,” Charbonnet said. “We learned early on that our work wasn't about filling potholes and getting out of town. It was about building a relationship with the community, connecting individuals, and being their champion.”
In 2019, the City of Fort Worth purchased the former Westside YMCA. The facility underwent a renovation and, in 2020, opened its doors as the RISE Community Center. The community center is a neighborhood hub where LVT residents can gain access to meal assistance, after-school programs, educational resources and counseling. It’s a place where residents can connect with one another and build community as they do life together. It’s also home to LVTRise.
The neighborhood health center will provide primary health care services for the LVT community and surrounding area, plus much more, thanks to partnerships between the City of Fort Worth, Tarrant County College, LVTRise, WestAid Community Resources, JPS Health Network and Cook Children’s.
While Cook Children’s will provide primary pediatric care, JPS Health Network will offer adult medical services just across the hall. Although both health networks have been Tarrant County mainstays for well over 100 years, this is the first time the two have partnered to offer comprehensive health services in one facility.
“This partnership is historic, and it’s one of the things I’m most excited about,” Tolley said. “It’s not uncommon for an assessment of a child’s medical history to uncover a health issue in a parent and vice versa. We talk a lot in the health care industry about transitions of care and continuity for those instances. This is an example of providing that continuity in real life between pediatric and adult health, as we’ll be able to take care of the whole family in one place with an opportunity for seamless transition.”
Tolley says the lessons learned from this partnership have the potential to enhance services at Cook Children’s seven other neighborhood health clinics throughout Tarrant County.
“Once we master that transition with these two clinics side-by-side in one location, what’s to stop us from doing a better job of making those referrals and transitions within our other neighborhood clinics to JPS centers in other parts of town as well,” she said. “I think we’ll learn a lot from this that we can replicate throughout the community and really give families the type of continuity of care that can truly impact the entire family’s health and wellness.”
The Las Vegas Trail Neighborhood Health Center will be a touchpoint for a number of building blocks for healthy living and sustainability, like education, economic stability, food security, parent and family resources and quality health care.
Its staff will include a full-time family therapist dedicated to caring for the mental health of children and families. According to their parent or caregiver, 35% of children in the Las Vegas Trail area have a diagnosed mental health need. This represents an estimated 5,500 Las Vegas Trail area school-aged children, and this rate is higher than Tarrant County, as well as state and national benchmarks, according to data gathered for Cook Children’s 2021 Community Health Needs Assessment.
WestAid Community Resources’ food pantry will relocate to a dedicated space inside the clinic, and will be supported by a full-time Cook Children’s nutritionist and food demonstration kitchen where guests can learn how to prepare nutritious meals for their families. In honor of the Thanksgiving season, groundbreaking attendees brought canned goods to replenish the shelves of the WestAid food pantry.
“Someone can come into the neighborhood and build a grocery store, but if families don’t know how to choose and cook nutritious food, what good does that do?” Tolley said. “The idea is that through education and providing resources like temporary food security through the food pantry we are laying building blocks of sustainability.”
In partnership with Tarrant County College, the clinic will also house a job training center where residents can learn customer service, phone management and general office skills, to name a few. It’s a win-win approach, Tolley says, as it gives LVT residents employable skills to gain stable, well-paying jobs within the health industry while also building a new pool for filling staffing needs at Cook Children’s and JPS.
A Fort Worth Police storefront will call the center home, too. Councilman Crain hopes the addition will foster positive relationships between residents and law enforcement, as well as provide a liaison for critical social resources.
“I'm very proud of how the center will work with the police department, because there are sometimes issues that need to be resolved and need some type of public safety interface,” Councilman Crain said. “It may not all be criminal. It may be working with our crisis intervention team to solve those problems and get further care, or maybe through our homeless network, like the Hope Team, with the city providing those services, or at least understanding where to go to get those services.”
Both Councilman Crain and Charbonnet say the clinic and its all-encompassing, wraparound approach to services and resources will be transformational for the community.
“It will take some time, but you can see real change happening in the area,” Councilman Crain said. “All of these activities I just look at as our bricks in the rebuilding of an area, and this health care center is a major brick in the foundation of that change.”