Facility renovation increases care for BN's uninsured medical needs

By Mary Ann Ford

Abel has worked at a banquet and conference center in the Twin Cities for 13 years setting up events and cleaning up afterwards.

He puts in 40 hours a week but doesn’t get health care benefits, and he makes too much to qualify for Medicaid. He had a heart attack almost nine years ago so getting insurance through the Affordable Care Act is cost prohibitive.

But thanks to the Community HealthCare Clinic, Abel receives the medication and regular checkups he needs to stay healthy – and he gets the services free of charge.

“I appreciate what they do for me,” said Abel, the father of four. “I don’t know what I’d do without the clinic. I see many doctors on a regular basis. My wife goes as well for checkups.”

The clinic, which was founded in 1993 through the efforts of the McLean County Medical Society, businesses and religious organizations, was designed to meet the needs of Abel and others like him.

It serves about 1,000 people a year.

“The faces of CHCC are the bus monitors, the janitors, those who take care of our kids and elderly,” said Angie McLaughlin, the clinic’s executive director. “They are the subpopulation left out of healthcare reform,” including the immigrant population.

An individual served by the clinic only grosses about $20,000 a year.

Before Abel knew about the clinic, he would go to Prompt Care and have to pay $150 per visit.  If he needed medicine, it would cost about $75.

McLaughlin said many of those who don’t have insurance and suffer from chronic diseases end up in the emergency rooms, a costly proposition for hospitals.

“The clinic is a cost savings for hospitals, but it’s also the right thing to do,” said McLaughlin. “It keeps people healthy.”

The clinic has two paid nurse practitioners and a host of volunteers including doctors from Advocate BroMenn Regional Medical Center, OSF St. Joseph Medical Center, and variety of specialty services.

“We coordinate all testing and referrals,” said McLaughlin.  “We have an incredible resource of physicians.  The thing we’re so proud of is our patients who are referred are given the same level of care that everyone should get.”

Soon, the clinic also will be offering free dental services through an onsite dental clinic.

Besides providing medical treatment and an onsite pharmacy, the Community HealthCare Clinic has classes on healthy eating and offers its clients vegetables from an onsite community garden cultivated by volunteers from Advocate BroMenn Regional Medical Center.

McLaughlin said the clinic also has partnered with two other Twin City organizations in attempt to reach more people who could benefit from the clinic’s services.

Matt Burgess, chief operating officer at Home Sweet Home Ministries, said the clinic began partnering with Home Sweet Home’s Mobile Health Project four years ago.

“The collaboration provides outreach medical care (through a nurse practitioner from the Community HealthCare Clinic) and also provides holistic social service care,” said Burgess.  “Our case manager meets with everyone to screen for challenges. If they are facing challenges, we do the linkage and provide the support.”

Because the Mobile Health Project is exactly that – mobile – it can go to people in need.

One such place is the McLean County Center for Human Services which provides mental health care. The Mobile Health Project goes to the center once a month.

“As we see clients and identify a need, we make referrals,” said Brigitte Lamar, nursing coordinator for CHS.

The hope is that the CHS clients will become comfortable seeing a medical professional from the Community HealthCare Clinic and start routine visits at the clinic, she said.

“A lot of times it’s a trust issue,” she said. “They have to build a rapport.”

The partnership has worked. Fifty-four CHS clients now receive services from the Mobile Health Project.

Lamar said one CHS client hadn’t been to a primary care doctor for a decade or two. 

“She was experiencing weight lose so she was one of the first we hooked up with the clinic.  They discovered she was a diabetic,” Lamar said.

Another CHS client was having a lot of cardiac issues, she said.  He also was linked to the Community HealthCare Clinic and a cardiologist.

“A healthy body helps your mental health,” Lamar said. “It has to be a holistic approach.

Lamar said the partnership “opens up an opportunity for our folks to get the care they need.”

Besides partnering on the Mobile Health Project, the Community HealthCare Clinic and Home Sweet Home recently started a pilot project to help clinic clients with diabetes to eat healthier.

Dubbed the “food pharmacy” program, it gives clinic clients with diabetes a “prescription” that allows them to shop at Home Sweet Home’s Bread for Life food co-op.

“Diet has a significant impact, especially on those with Type 2 diabetes,” said Burgess.  “Fresh produce and perishable foods are not cheap.”

Bread for Life food co-op has those foods available and with the “prescription” from the Community HealthCare Clinic, clients can get healthy foods free of charge.

“The idea is to get them used to shopping for healthy foods; to build them into their diets,” he said.

The fact that “community” is in the HealthCare Clinic’s name is no mistake. The clinic truly is a community effort.

McLaughlin said the majority of the clinic’s $560,000 annual budget comes from local sources including Bloomington and Normal townships, United Way, Illinois Prairie Community Foundation, the John M. Scott Center and local corporation grants.

The clinic also taps into national grants.

“We’re always looking, trying to figure out what’s on our wish list and how it matches with funders,” she said.

Two years ago that wish list included getting a larger facility.  After a six-month fundraising campaign, the clinic had the $1.6 million it needed to renovate a former doctor’s office building at 900 Franklin Avenue into today’s clinic.

“Since we moved here we’ve increased exam time significantly without increasing staff,” she said. “We’re very, very efficient. Ninety-seven percent of our budget goes back to services.”

Those services have helped keep Abel and others like him healthy and an active part of the Twin City working community.