Officials hail plan for expanded health-care services in Evanston
Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen (from left), Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and Mark Neaman, CEO of the NorthShore University HealthSystem, talk before Wednesday's kickoff event for a new federally qualified health center that is to serve low-income residents. | Bob Seidenberg~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 17, 2012 11:36AM
EVANSTON — Officials in Skokie and Evanston are celebrating their success in landing a federally qualified health center that aims to address health needs of low-income residents in the two communities.
A wide range of community leaders — including the mayors of both communities; U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-9th; and J.P. Gallagher, president of NorthShore Evanston Hospital — gathered on the lawn of the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center in Evanston at a kickoff event for the center, which is to operate initially out of the building at 2100 Ridge Ave.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a $650,000 grant several months ago to Erie Family Health Services, to extend services into the Evanston and Skokie areas.
The grant was one of 219 nationwide to receive the grant and one of only 11 in Illinois.
Dr. Lee Francis, president and CEO of Erie, said the center could be running as early Oct. 22.
At last week’s ceremony, Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl paid tribute to the community representatives who helped make the grant a reality.
“This is a great day for the city of Evanston,” declared Tisdahl. “A federally qualified health center will be the catalyst for improving the health and wellness of Evanston residents.
“I want to thank (U.S.) Sen. Dick Durbin and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky for their steadfast leadership in bringing this center to Evanston. The support of Senator Durbin, Congresswoman Schakowsky, Evanston Health Director Evonda Thomas and our broad range of partners — including Evanston and St. Francis hospitals, local social-service agencies and Erie Family Health Center — will help us create a center that will make a real impact in peoples’ lives and leverage the services already provided by Evanston’s Health Department.”
Schakowsky said she was “thrilled” by the decision by the Department of Health and Human Services to fund the expansion of Erie Family Health Center services.
“This decision is a great first step to address the large and increasing need for health-care services in my district,” Schakowsky said. “I am confident that the creation of a high-quality community health center with the capacity to serve over 5,000 patients in the greater Evanston area will produce very meaningful results and will continue to enhance the health-care ‘safety net’ in my district.”
Gallagher pledged a $1.8 million contribution on the part of the hospital system to get going on the federally qualified health center.
In line with the hospital’s original mission, NorthShore has made considerable efforts to serve area residents regardless of their ability to pay.
NorthShore Evanston Hospital operates a free outpatient department and child and adolescent center, providing some 9,000 individuals with access to care, he said.
For the past 16 years, in combination with the city, the hospital has operated a clinic at Evanston Township High School, which some two-thirds of the students have been able to access, he said.
NorthShore’s costs for unreimbursed care runs about $128 million, and the system also provides about $24 million in charity or free care, he said.
Despite the efforts, “we recognize the increased demand for services beyond the capacity we are able to provide on a daily basis,” he told his audience. “We see it in the waiting list for patients trying to get into our free clinic.
“We also see it in the individuals who come to our emergency department for basic health services because they don’t have access to a physician on an ongoing basis.’’
Gallagher expressed hope the hospital would play a role in the planning process, working with Erie on the services to be offered, as well as the permanent location for the center.
Francis, the president and CEO of Erie, indicated the center expects to have no dearth of clients.
More than 25 percent of residents within the service area are low income and uninsured, he said. Some 75 percent of households are considered low income, he said, and many use emergency rooms as their primary source of health care.
He said residents who fall in that group are more likely to develop asthma, diabetes and tooth decay. He said teen pregnancy and infant mortality is also higher among that group.
At the onset, Erie will provide pediatric care, family medicine and dental services at the Civic Center location.
“Tell your patients, families, friends, neighbors about the new health center and Erie,” Francis said.