Celebrating 20 Years of UPMC Children’s Spanish Language Clinic

Southwestern Pennsylvania’s first bilingual pediatric clinic, Salud Para Niños, has grown significantly in the past 20 years.

The clinic, founded in 2002 at UPMC’s Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, offers comprehensive bilingual primary care to children and families throughout the region. Salud Para Niños — or “Health for the Children” in Spanish — provides care to underserved, primarily Spanish-speaking communities.

“Salud Para Niños actually is an acronym,” says Diego Chaves-Gnecco, MD, MPH, director and founder of the Salud Para Niños program. “SALUD stands for Students, Residents, Faculty, and Latinos United Against Health Disparities.”

Originally from Colombia, Dr. Chaves-Gnecco first came to Pittsburgh 24 years ago for subspecialty training as a pediatrician. He eventually matched with UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh to complete his pediatrics residency in the U.S., joining a program called CORE, or Community Oriented Residency Education, which focuses on providing health care to minority and underserved populations.

Never Miss a Beat!

Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!

Message and data rates may apply. Text the word STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Click here to view the privacy and terms.

Dr. Dena Hofkosh, MD, CORE’s director at the time, suggested Dr. Chaves-Gnecco choose UPMC Children’s Child Advocacy Center as his residency’s continuity clinic.

“By then, I had been in Pittsburgh for four years and I had realized that the Latino community was an invisible community,” he says. “This is one of the things that still breaks my heart, 20 years later: You go on the streets and you ask, ‘Are there Latinos in Pittsburgh?’ And you hear, ‘There are no Latinos in Pittsburgh.'”

There are roughly 45,000 Latinos living in southwestern Pennsylvania – 15,000 of whom are children, he says.

Dr. Chaves-Gnecco then proposed the creation of Salud Para Niños to better serve Latino patients. It started slowly, with just a handful of people seeking services each week. But the need was clear, he says, and the program quickly grew.

Now, the program hosts three weekly clinics in Oakland, in addition to free weekly bilingual pediatric clinics to uninsured patients on the South Side and Beechview through use of the UPMC Children’s Hospital’s Ronald McDonald Care Mobile.

Services include:

  • A Bilingual Pediatric Primary Care and Immunizations Clinic — Every Tuesday afternoon, Thursday morning, and Friday morning. Located at the UPMC Children’s Primary Care Center — Oakland 3420 Fifth Avenue Pittsburgh, Pa. 15213. Appointment and health insurance required.
  • A Free Bilingual Pediatric Primary Care and Immunizations Clinic — Every second Saturday of the month. Located at the Birmingham Clinic in the South Side, 2100 Jane Street Pittsburgh, Pa. 15203. Appointment required, health insurance not required.
  • A Free Bilingual Pediatric Primary Care Clinic — Tuesday mornings. Located at Casa San Jose in Beechview, 2116 Broadway Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15216. Appointment required, health insurance not required.

Salud Para Niños also offers a bilingual literacy programs, injury prevention programs, Hispanic car seat checks, and a Spanish phone line.

“Right before the pandemic happened, we expanded our free clinics because the need was so big,” says Dr. Chaves-Gnecco. “We were able to demonstrate through another pilot project that we needed to have more clinics for uninsured patients.”

The program has served a record number of patients in the past three years. While Salud Para Niños focuses primarily on the Latino community, Dr. Chaves-Gnecco says he has seen patients from all over the world, including from Ukraine, Denmark, South Korea, Japan, and Indonesia.

“There are many minority communities – immigrants, Latino families, African American families — and white families who don’t have the access and the privilege that many of our families who live in the city have. So, we need to be advocates,” says Dr. Chaves-Gnecco. “As pediatricians, we speak for children. They don’t vote, they don’t always have a seat at the table. And the same thing with the Latino community: Many of the Latino members of the community don’t speak English; therefore, they don’t have a voice. We want to be a voice for them.”

One key way to help marginalized children in Pennsylvania is to expand universal health insurance coverage, he says. “There are 24,000 children who will never have health insurance in Pennsylvania, and these are not only Latinos,” he says.

Dr. Chaves-Gnecco is also looking for more bilingual staff members to further expand Salud Para Niños’ services to the region’s most vulnerable.

“Right now, we only have one person who is helping to answer our Spanish [phone] line. So, when people call the primary call center, the 412-692-6000 number, there is an option in Spanish,” he says. “We are looking for patient representatives and bilingual nurses who will help us with answering the phones and caring for our patients. They are not required to be bilingual, but if they are bilingual, it’s a benefit.”

Ultimately, Dr. Chaves-Gnecco’s goal as a pediatrician is to see his patients grow up to be healthy, successful, involved community members. It’s especially rewarding when a former patient visits him as a first-generation high school or college graduate, he says.

“That’s a way to celebrate,” he says.

He hopes those who are able to learn a new language will take the initiative to build cultural bridges in their communities. “The world is bilingual, trilingual, multilingual. So, if people want to learn another language, I encourage them to do it,” he says.

For more information about Salud Para Niños at UPMC Children’s Hospital, visit www.chp.edu/spanishclinic or call 412-692-6000 and choose option 8.

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.