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Just what the doctor ordered
Quality medical care now available to Roger Parkís neediest residents

Friday, April 25, 2008
Chicago Journal News-Star

Elected officials, including a Chicago alderman, a Cook County commissioner and a U.S. congresswoman, toasted the grand opening of a new federally-funded health care clinic that opened in Rogers Park earlier this month.

But the real big shots were the community residents, neighborhood healthcare workers and activists who joined forces to bring high quality, accessible medical care to some of Rogers Park's neediest residents.

"This is the culmination of two long years of hard work that showcased the very best of what Rogers Park has to offer," said Jim Ginderske, a former 49th Ward aldermanic candidate and volunteer chairman of Neighbors for a Healthy Rogers Park.

"This success is proof that Rogers Park's diversity is one of our strengths and that when we work together for a common goal, we can achieve great things," he said.

Neighbors for a Healthy Rogers Park came together in 2005 after discovering that Rogers Park was one of the most medically underserved communities in the city. Community residents began lobbying Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, 13th, to locate a county health clinic in Rogers Park.

When residents were turned down by Cook County, Suffredin suggested that they see if Rogers Park met the requirements for a federally-funded medical clinic. The group appealed to Alderman Joe Moore, 49th, who turned to his friend, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, 9th.

"Congresswoman Schakowsky's office provided the quickest letter of support imaginable," Ginderske said.

But before residents could apply for federal funding, a community needs assessment was first needed to see if Rogers Park met federal requirements.

The group turned to Loyola University's Center for Urban Research and Learning, which helped organize community focus groups and assessed community needs for health care. Much of the community assessment and federal grant application process occurred during the heat of the 2007 aldermanic race, in which Ginderske and Moore were both contenders.

"No matter what happened electorally, Joe put the people in this community first," Ginderske said.

Not only did Rogers Park meet the federal guidelines for a medically underserved community of one health care center per 3,500 people, the ratio almost doubled of one health care center per 7,500 people.

The community needs assessment also revealed that Rogers Park was among the lowest in prenatal healthcare in the city, and HIV/AIDS infections had increased by almost 100 percent.

Neighbors for a Healthy Rogers Park was able to secure $2 million in federal grant money. Heartland Alliance, a human rights organization that operates two school-based clinics at Senn and Roosevelt High Schools, and an affordable medical care facility in Uptown, agreed to operate the new Heartland International Health Center in Rogers Park.

Moore helped residents secure a former medical building at

2200 W. Touhy Ave.
, that was accessible by public transportation.

The new health center now offers residents a range of services including primary care, pediatrics, prenatal care, immunizations, women's health services, chronic disease management, pharmaceutical and mental health services, all regardless of patients' ability to pay.

"At Heartland Alliance, quality affordable health care is considered a basic right," medical director Bechara Choucair said. "Our commitment is to provide people who struggle to access basic primary and mental health care."

An Electronic Health Record System will enable the clinic's medical staff to better manage patients' medical care, especially those with chronic diseases.

Smartly equipped with seven exam rooms, the clinic employs a family physician, a pediatrician, a nurse practitioner in psychiatry, and a certified midwife. Most of the clinic's 14 staff members reside in Rogers Park or nearby.

"We've been seeing patients since Feb. 4," said Michael Curtis, the center's family physician. "People are coming here seeking help for chronic medical conditions that have gone neglected for years and all of a sudden have access to a clinic in their own community."

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