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Rogers Park gets health care clinic

Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Chicago News-Star
by LORRAINE SWANSON

As a public health nurse for the Howard Area Community Center in Rogers Park, Monica Dillon has seen the devastating after-effects of adults who put off seeing a doctor until it is too late because they lack insurance or other affordable health care options.
"I heard from a woman who had chest pains for several weeks," Dillon said. "It turned out that she had a 'silent heart attack.' Now, it's a whole big cardiac mess that could have been prevented."
To address the growing need of some 20,000 Rogers Park residents who are medically undeserved, Dillon joined other community activists on the health task force for 13th District Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin who lobbied unsuccessfully in 2005 for a county health clinic in Rogers Park.
"We switched gears when we realized that were fewer dollars available on the county level," Suffredin said. "One of the things we knew was that there was money available in the federal budget for a federally qualified health clinic."
The group that testified before the Cook County Board, including former 49th Ward candidate Jim Ginderske, banded together and formed Neighbors for a Health Rogers Park to bring a federally-qualified health clinic to the neighborhood. That two-year effort, which included a comprehensive community needs assessment, has resulted in a $650,000 federal grant to open a federal primary care health clinic in Rogers Park in early 2008.
"The hardest thing about a project like this is getting it started," Ginderske said. "That's what (Suffredin) did. He facilitated meetings and provided meeting space at his office."
The new clinic, 2200 W. Touhy Ave., will be managed and operated by the Heartland International Health Center, an affiliate of Heartland Alliance. The facility will accept most insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, which will augment the clinic's annual $1.3 million operating budget. Those without insurance will be able to pay for primary care services on a sliding fee.
Services will include prenatal and primary care, pediatrics, some psychiatry and other medical services. Specialized services, such as cancer treatment or lab tests, will be referred to Stroger Hospital of Cook County and other area hospitals. Most important, the clinic will be able to offer preventative care and primary care physicians to the thousands of Rogers Park residents who are underinsured or, despite working full time, do not have access to health care coverage through their employers.
"Rogers Park has a significant need for primary care centers," said Bethara Choucair, MD, managing director for Heartland International Health Center. "We'll be able to develop treatment plans for patients and meet them where they are. Our patients have different priorities. They're concerned about how they will pay their rent. My role is to work with them to make sure treatment plans will address those needs."
Heartland has committed to hiring locally whenever possible for the 14 positions that the medical facility will provide. Residents who use the facility's services will also comprise 51 percent of health center's board of directors.
While Rogers Park's designation as a state and federal "medically undeserved" and "physician shortage" area came as no surprise to Dillon, some of the outcomes on the community needs assessment did. For example, Rogers Park rates in the top 10 percent of Chicago-area communities for deaths from preventable respiratory diseases.
"Cancer is the most heartbreaking. I've talked to residents who've had lumps for a couple of months who figured they would go away because they don't have insurance," Dillon said. "A lot of this is preventable if you go for annual checkups. It's all just prevention. That's what is missing for low-income persons and the uninsured."


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