This Local Healthcare Startup Is Bringing Community Wellness Into Neighborhood Laundromats

Fabric Health connects residents in North and West Philly with health insurance navigators and facilitates health screenings — all during a wash-and-dry cycle.

Local startup Fabric Health facilitates wellness services, including health coverage assistance, in Philly laundromats. / Photograph courtesy of Fabric Health.

“Self-care” has seemingly become a buzz word in the wellness world, especially in these COVID times. It’s often talked about in terms of what you should do to feel your best — a strength-training sesh, a pottery class, a day at the spa. While self-care is so beneficial and necessary for staying physically, emotionally and mentally healthy, the “treat-yourself” mentality ends up ignoring another major component of wellness: the health of others. But at least one new Philly company is making it a priority through community care.

If you’ve never heard the term before, community care is the act of using one’s resources and privilege to help, better serve, and/or improve the well-being of others. Whether it looks like cooking or delivering food for a grieving friend or standing up against injustice in the workplace, your neighborhood, or at a nationwide protest, community care can help mitigate systemic inequities that directly impact health outcomes, especially for vulnerable and at-risk populations, and is essential to seeing that all individuals thrive and live well. Nakita Valerio, a Canada-based activist, researcher, and community organizer, emphasized it best in her 2019 Facebook status that went viral: “Shouting ‘self-care’ at people who actually need community care is how we fail people.”

That’s why Fabric Health, a local healthcare startup founded earlier this year, is working to close community-care gaps and make healthcare more accessible to busy families and those who identify as low-income. They’re doing so by transforming neighborhood laundromats into pseudo-community wellness centers.

Laundromats? Yes. Laundromats.

According to Fabric Health co-founders Allister Chang and Courtney Bragg, laundromats are the perfect place to “meet community members where they are” and provide them health-related services “in the time they have.” Though the number of Americans who rely on laundromats is not measured, the Coin Laundry Association estimates that the industry generates $5 billion in gross revenue every year — in other words, there’s a fairly high number of people using community machines. Plus, washing and drying typically takes about one hour each, leaving folks with lots of idle time.

Fabric Health has been incorporated within The Laundry Café’s five locations across North and West Philly since September. Currently, the startup offers healthcare enrollment assistance through a partnership with Pennie, Pennsylvania’s official health insurance marketplace. This was local laundromat users’ most highly requested service, Chang says, noting that Fabric Health and the team at The Laundry Café executed over 100 hours of surveying in the laundromats to determine what community members needed. (Barriers to health insurance access include language difference, technology and internet gaps, and culturally competent support, according to a 6ABC data analysis.)

Fabric Health has also already helped families get access to cheaper prescriptions, find new healthcare providers, and navigate public benefit applications for SNAP and TANF, plus runs an on-site literacy corner for kids. The startup is also planning on offering seasonal services like tax prep. “Our goal is to really understand what families want and need, and then work with great community partners to bring those resources to laundromats — where families already are and have time to participate,” Chang says.

Want to see what Fabric Health is all about? They’re hosting two community events this weekend. On Saturday at The Laundry Café location at 4424 North Broad Street and on Sunday at The Laundry Café location at 1575 North 52nd Street, area residents will receive help with enrolling in health coverage from Pennie’s certified assisters. Additionally, Jefferson Health will be providing free mammograms, the Hepatitis B Foundation will be offering hepatitis B, liver cancer, BMI, vision, and blood-pressure screenings, and the YMCA will be raffling a membership. As a bonus: Community members are invited to wash their first two laundry loads for free. Both events run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and are free to attend.

Philadelphia magazine is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and economic mobility in the city. Read all our reporting here.