By Angie McLaughlin, Community Health Care Clinic
Everyone has insurance because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as “ObamaCare,” right? Wrong. Ah, but Federal reforms of “ObamaCare” will fix things and then everyone will have access to healthcare, right? Wrong again. Despite what goes on in Washington D.C., there will always be individuals who “fall through the cracks” and lack access to affordable healthcare. Even the best state or federal laws do not and will likely not solve this problem. Right here in Mclean County, there are currently over 10,000 uninsured adults. These are people who do not have insurance for various reasons (loss of employment, homelessness, family crisis, or no affordable option despite federal subsidies). So, when they must have medical care, their only option is the most expensive one — a hospital emergency room.
However, the Community Health Care Clinic, located in their new facility at 900 Franklin, just north of Advocate Bromenn Medical Center, addresses this problem and provides local access to healthcare for low-income adults whose annual income is less than 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (or about $21,000 per year). Have you heard of us? Probably not. If you’ve never lost insurance benefits due to a divorce, job loss, or significant illness, or maybe just starting a job and insurance hasn’t yet kicked in, or working jobs that don’t offer insurance benefits — you would have no reason to know about this amazing non-profit. Access to healthcare and our “little” free clinic certainly isn’t on the radar of the majority of people living in our community.
Healthcare access is no longer just about the insured and uninsured. It is about remaining barriers that low-income individuals face in accessing affordable insurance and affordable access. CHCC carefully screens every applicant to ensure they have no other affordable access to healthcare before they are accepted. For example, a patient came to the CHCC after losing her job due to missing work because of caring for her sick children. She lost her insurance and her household income, so she also applied for Illinois Medicaid. That application process took several months and in the meantime, she found a job that did not offer insurance, but gave her income too high to maintain eligibility in the Medicaid program. During the several months of these transitions for her, CHCC addressed her medical concerns, kept her healthy, and kept her out of local emergency rooms, while she searched for employment and got back on her feet. These stories occur every single day in our community.
The Community Health Care Clinic has provided quality healthcare to medically underserved individuals in McLean County since 1993. As our community’s only free clinic, all services are delivered free of charge to patients. Since the beginning, the clinic has not received any state or federal funding for our operations. The clinic is almost solely funded by grants, individuals, businesses, foundations, and our local United Way. Our vast network of hospital services, volunteers, specialists, and community partnerships allow us to provide high quality, financially efficient care to low-income adults in McLean County who would otherwise have no other option for healthcare. This clinic has not only improved healthcare access to those that need it, but saved our local healthcare system millions of dollars.
At the clinic, it is much more than just providing simple access to healthcare. It is about providing a compassionate, caring medical home where each patient feels cared for and is taken care of. It is about providing a level of care that you and I expect when we visit the doctor. It is about building a trusting relationship to improve the health of every patient that comes to us. It is about addressing gaps in our local healthcare system to ensure everyone has access to quality care. It is about saving lives.
Several years ago, we realized that our vision for quality healthcare could no longer be met in the original facility, which was located just east of the current location. We realized that patients needed more than a medical exam and a prescription for medication. We also realized that as the healthcare landscape changed, so should the physical landscape of the clinic and our services. Our vision was to transform how healthcare was being delivered to the most vulnerable in our community. So, in April 2015 (just two short years ago!) the clinic launched an aggressive capital campaign. We began to tell our new story. We were no longer just about improving healthcare access; we were about providing the highest-quality care possible and doing whatever it takes to improve the health of our patients.
We needed more exam rooms, clinical consultation space, patient education space, a demonstration kitchen, more private clinical space, a larger medication dispensary, a medication pick-up window, and while we were at it, we included a dental suite for our community’s first-ever free dental clinic. Our goals were lofty. Our aim was high. We needed to raise over $1.5 million and planned to do it in just over six months. That’s right. $1.5 million in six months! We had no idea how our community would respond. We had already secured a substantial investment and had others wanting to commit to our project. These early investments paved the way, but would our community care about our patients enough to invest in this project?
The answer was a resounding “yes!” In just over six months, we met our investment goal and had almost the entire amount pledged by the time work began in January 2016. So, what did our community invest in? What results will come from that investment? Those results are already being seen at 900 Franklin Avenue in Normal, our new home as of September 19, 2016.
This transformation of our physical space resulted in the transformation of care we sought to achieve. It has been amazing for us to see how our patients’ view of us was also transformed. Our patients now walk into a beautiful, warm, welcoming waiting room full of natural light and comfortable seating. Some patients have commented that they are not sure they belong here, that the space is too nice for them.
Those comments were difficult for us to hear at first. Of course, they belong here. Of course, they deserve the best. Of course, they deserve the highest-quality care we can provide. We know that and we want to make sure our patients know it, and that our entire community knows it.
We are confident our patients are provided some of the best care in McLean County. Clinic staff and volunteers not only provide medical exams and prescription medications, but they coordinate all of their referrals to sub-specialty physicians in private offices. That’s right, we have over 120 specialty physicians who care for clinic patients completely free of charge. They not only provide in-office visits, but they order additional tests, perform surgeries, and in many cases, save patients’ lives. They are a critical fabric to our mission and we are so grateful for their compassion and commitment. Many of them are featured within the pages of this magazine. Next time you visit your doctor, ask them if they volunteer with us. If they say “yes,” please thank them for us. If they say “no,” maybe they would consider it.
In 2016, as we began to think about care transformation and what services could look like in the new building, we began closely monitoring our most vulnerable patients. How could we provide better, more coordinated, supportive care to the “sickest of the sick?” Our weekly clinical staffings began to focus on patients who had been recently hospitalized, recently in the emergency room, or had some significant health event that put them at risk of being hospitalized. We started doing whatever we could for these patients to ensure their healthcare and social needs were being addressed so that we could keep them as healthy as possible. Our results surprised even us!
Our chronic disease management indicators in diabetes and hypertension exceed national benchmarks. Our patients are lowering their hemoglobin A1C’s and their blood pressures because they are receiving care at the clinic. In our first year of tracking hospital admissions, there were only 52 hospital admissions from our entire patient population of 1,000 adults! Even better was that only two of those patients were re-admitted within 30 days of discharge (that’s a three percent re-admission rate). This transformation of space and transformation in care matters to every single person living in McLean County. It matters because we are not only saving our healthcare system money, it matters because we are saving lives.
To learn more about the Community Health Care Clinic and how to support their mission, visit their website at www.chcchealth.org, visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/communityhealthcareclinic, or email Angie at email@example.com.
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