New health center aims to serve region
Takala Fomond, Medical Assistant Erie Family Health Center, puts up a vaccination chart while organizing a desk Monday during the grand opening of the Erie Family Health Center inside the Evanston Civic Center. | michael jarecki ~ for Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 26, 2012 6:52AM
EVANSTON — Evanston resident Kathy Graves and her son, Christian, paid a visit Monday to the ground level floor of the city’s Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center for Christian’s regular dental checkup.
They found quite a crowd gathered ahead of them.
Officials from the Erie Family Health Center and local municipalities were gathered to celebrate the opening of the first federal community health center serving the near north suburbs.
The federally funded new center — with examining rooms and labs — provides children’s dentistry but also primary care services for children, teens, adults and seniors, as well as behavior care services.
“I think it’s great,” Graves said. “I think there a lot of families who do not have access. I think it’s great to have it available and accessible near home.”
Erie Family Health Center is partnering with the city of Evanston, village of Skokie, NorthShore University HealthSystem, Saint Francis Hospital and others on the center.
The civic center site, 2100 Ridge, is temporary. Officials are looking for a site more centrally-located to both communities, focusing on the Dempster corridor near McCormick as site for a permanent center, said Dr. Lee Francis, president and CEO of Erie.
Once the permanent site is at full capacity, Erie officials estimate the new center will provide care for more than 5,500 patients through more than 18,500 annual patient visits.
“Right now there is a growing need for primary care providers in the suburbs,’’ said Francis, who started out as clinician at Cook County Hospital, “so we are thrilled to be able to expand our health care services by branching out into Evanston and Skokie to meet increased patient demand.”
The center was made possible through a $650,000 annual grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of the Affordable Care Act. In addition, the NorthShore University HealthSystem contributed about $1.2 million toward the new center, as well as $600,000 of annual operating support over next three years.
“Capital costs for the new health center are $2.7 million,” said Francis, “and we are currently working to raise an additional $1.4 million to meet our goal.’’
Erie officials, working with the two municipalities, wrote the grant, one of only 11 awarded by the federal government for new centers in Illinois. Francis stressed that the center is open to residents from throughout the area, not just Evanston and Skokie.
The grant documented “there is a true health care and acute health care need in the Evanston and surrounding communities, which may not be visible as you drive up and down the streets of the community,” Francis said.
“We looked at the public health demand and we identified such (factors) as late entry into prenatal care for pregnant women, high rates of diabetes among adults and high rates of obesity,” he said. “So the need was definitely there.”
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen expressed their delight at the move. The Skokie Health Department provides limited health services while Evanston, except for pediatric health care, provides none.
Tisdahl, who played a role lobbying local legislators for support, expressed delight “that many more Evanston area residents and their families will now have access to much-needed affordable health care.”Van Dusen paid tribute to the city of Evanston’s efforts in pursuing the clinic.
Evanston officials were forced to cut health department services in a budget move in 2007, leaving “huge gap,” in access for some residents, said Evanston Health Director Evonda Thomas.
Officials documented an increase in sexually transmitted diseases of roughly 25 percent, she noted. Also of concern were officials finding “we had people who had delayed seeking primary care” and local hospitals were seeing significant increases in emergency room and community care, she said.