By Alexander Germanis
There was a time, not that long ago, when one’s “world” consisted of how far one could travel in a day. This meant the necessities of life had to be within a small, accessible radius from one’s home.
Beside basic food and shelter, safety and peace of mind also came from knowing there was a hospital or at least a doctor close by.
Now, rapid and inexpensive travel, home delivery, and online shopping have made most of the necessities of life more accessible than ever. But there are still many who find it difficult to access the health care they need in as simple a fashion, whether due to distance, cost, not having the “right” insurance, or a lack of knowledge of the health services provided in an area.
Heartland Health Services exists to expand one’s world to fully encompass care across a full spectrum of health needs.
Turn No One Away
Anyone who has either gone to the doctor or taken a loved one to any medical appointment knows getting quality health care in a timely manner can be challenging. Heartland Health Services Chief Medical Officer Christopher Johnson, MD, CSCS, is always looking for ways to improve that experience for the patient.
“I love the process of trying to get primary care right,” he declares. “How can we continue to work on our listening skills, build relationships with our patients by spending time with them, and use the power of follow-up and continuity? How can we help patients identify their health care goals and then empower them to reach them? There are few things better than being able to celebrate a patient’s commitment to their own health and seeing their hard work pay off.”
One of those “better” things might be knowing Heartland serves everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Accepting commercial insurance, VA benefits, Medicaid, Medicare, or out-of-pocket pay, no one is told they have the “wrong coverage.” And with Heartland’s after-hours clinics, telehealth, and direct visits to five homeless shelters in Peoria, access to this care is ever-expanding.
Overcoming the Obstacles of Access
With seven sites in Greater Peoria and Pekin, after-hours availability, and Saturday clinics, Heartland provides family medicine, obstetrics, podiatry, ophthalmology, sports medicine, psychiatry, counseling, telehealth, free pulmonary function test screening, and discount pharmaceuticals.
Sometimes, the barrier to getting quality care is simply being able to get to a clinic. “Some patients have to choose between going to work or going to the doctor’s office for an appointment,” Dr. Johnson points out. “We take pride in removing this barrier by going to them.”
Using a tele-diagnostic model, a team of community health workers and a Heartland nurse practitioner are also able to reach out to the homeless at Peoria Rescue Ministries, Esther House, Salvation Army men’s and family shelters, and the Dream Center.
But there are still other obstacles of which Heartland is aware. “Health care today is about more than access to medicines. We also have to recognize and address the social determinants of health,” the doctor says. “Our Community Outreach and Engagement team provide awareness and education to everyone in the communities we serve, not just our current patients. They are there for people whether they need help with healthcare coverage, social security benefits, transportation, housing, food, Medicaid/SNAP benefits, and more.”
Accessibility and a wide range of services means little, however, without the proper, dedicated, trained, and caring staff to provide them. Doctor Johnson seeks out only the individuals who possess the right qualities: “a commitment to being positive, kind, disciplined, and being able to create excitement for the challenge of adapting to change.”
Forgetting No One
In any community, there are those in need of specialized care. The expectant mother, the unborn child, the mentally ill, and the substance addict all require special attention. At Heartland Health Services, they can find it.
With three obstetrics-trained family physicians, two certified nurse midwives, and three women’s health nurse practitioners—one of whom is also trained in perinatal mental health—three Heartland clinics are well-staffed to handle that portion of the community. Heartland also manages outpatient OBGYN residency in partnership with the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria and OSF St. Francis. “Pediatric health starts in pregnancy,” Dr. Johnson insists. “By improving access to excellent prenatal care, we aim to lower preterm deliveries and low birth weight babies and ensure we are doing whatever we can to deliver healthy babies.”
Those in need of behavioral health services can also find aid at Heartland. Through telehealth psychiatry, counseling at five locations, Medication Assisted Treatment programs for addiction, and the recent addition of two psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, no one is left alone.
The Rx for Chronic Diseases
Access to quality care may be a pervading issue, but access is not the issue when it comes to the range of chronic diseases plaguing Americans. According to Dr. Johnson, daily habits and asking the right questions are where to begin in the battle to eliminate hypertension, diabetes, lung disease, depression, chronic pain, and obesity.
“What do you consistently do? Are your daily habits getting you closer to or farther from your goals?” the doctor posits. “Were you able to eat real food this week? How often? Do you have air conditioning? Who helps you stay accountable with our goals? Any difficulty managing stress? How many minutes of exercise did you get this week? Are you strength-training twice weekly? Then we need to be consistent about assessing their fitness habits at every visit.”
Educating patients about chronic disease and how exercise can eliminate it is something in which Dr. Johnson has taken a personal interest. Becoming a strength training coach and martial arts instructor in addition to his medical duties, the doctor has personally witnessed the effects regular exercise has on chronic disease.
“I have seen people fix their knee arthritis, achy shoulders, chronic back pain, and get off countless medications,” he shares. “My biggest takeaway from my journey in medicine and fitness is that we will not win the chronic disease battle unless we remove barriers so that everyone can have access to safe, evidence-based, consistent exercise they can do for years.
To that end, Heartland has created a wellness committee, established relationships in the medical and fitness world, vetted fitness programs, and is exploring options to embed fitness in our clinics. We will also be embarking on a formal chronic care management patient support program in September 2023!”
Living as an Example
If anyone understands the importance of having every necessity accessible within their personal world, it’s Dr. Johnson. Born in Washington, Illinois, he schooled, launched his career, served his country, and raised a family all without leaving the Midwest.
With a degree from the University of Illinois, Dr. Johnson completed his residency in family medicine at Memorial Hospital South Bend and a South Bend Notre Dame Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellowship.
Serving for six years as a medical administration officer in the Air National Guard with the 182nd Medical Group in Peoria, the doctor also earned his Strength and Conditioning Specialty certification (CSCS) and is a CrossFit Level One trainer.
“At this point in my career as a physician, my goals are simple: Do meaningful work, be challenged every day, see lots of patients and get home on time,” he sums up. “Heartland checks all those boxes. I love our mission: high quality health care, accessible to all.”
Coming Full Circle
There are still many alive who remember a time when access to health care was as simple as making a phone call and the doctor would come to your home. As the quality of medicine has improved and the spectrum of services has expanded, those days faded into history.
Now, however, Heartland Health Services is turning back the clock in its own way. By providing more locations to meet with patients, offering expanded hours, and utilizing technology to see people in their own homes, the best aspects of healthcare of the past are joining the best of today.
Heartland Health Services has seven locations in the Greater Peoria Area and Pekin. Please visit us on the web at www.hhsil.com/locations to find a site near you. Please call us at (309) 680-7600 to set up an appointment.