KishHealth, NIU open primary care clinic

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Kevin Poorten, president and CEO of KishHealth System (left) and John Peters, president of Northern Illinois University, address members of the community and the media at a news conference officially announcing the opening of the Community Cares Clinic, a primary care clinic located in NIU's Family Health, Wellness and Literacy Center at 3100 Sycamore road, DeKalb.
Kevin Poorten, president and CEO of KishHealth System (left) and John Peters, president of Northern Illinois University, address members of the community and the media at a news conference officially announcing the opening of the Community Cares Clinic, a primary care clinic located in NIU's Family Health, Wellness and Literacy Center at 3100 Sycamore road, DeKalb.

DEKALB – A collaborative effort among area health care providers, philanthropists, elected officials and Northern Illinois University has created a new community resource for individuals and families who do not have access to primary medical care.

The Community Cares Clinic, located within NIU’s Family Health, Wellness and Literacy Center at 3100 Sycamore Road, provides primary care services for area residents with and without health insurance. Nearly two years in the planning, the clinic addresses community concerns that the neediest in the community did not have access to non-emergency medical care.

“We are very grateful to the board of directors of KishHealth System and the NIU Board of Trustees for supporting this effort,” said Kevin Poorten, KishHealth System president and CEO. “The health system’s vision is to control our own destiny and accomplish ‘reform’ on the local level by creating access to care without regard to ability to pay.”

“We’re very proud to be part of the solution to a serious community concern,” NIU President John Peters said. “The open-access clinic concept has been part of our plan for the Family Health, Wellness and Literacy Center for some time: Not only does it help guarantee access, but it also provides a clinical training site for our students in nursing, dietetics, public health, clinical laboratory sciences and many other health-related programs.”

Poorten stressed that organizers hope patients will view the clinic as their home for primary care.

“We know people will come to us when they’re sick,” he said, “but we also want them to use the clinic to manage their health problems, like diabetes or high blood pressure, to have well-child checks or sports physicals. We want them to have an ongoing relationship with the doctors, nurses and staff at the clinic, and we want them to know that the same team they see for primary care will continue to be involved in their care at all levels, 24/7.”

The Community Cares Clinic provides affordable, cost-effective medical care, by appointment, for infants, children and adults with and without insurance coverage. All insurances, including Medicaid and Medicare, and private group insurance are accepted, and an affordable, sliding-fee scale is available for those who lack insurance coverage.

Special arrangements have been made with Hope Haven to provide free medical care for their homeless shelter clients.

“Some same-day appointments are available, but in order to provide timely care, we ask that patients make appointments,” Poorten said.

Clinic hours are 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, and eventually will be expanded to include evenings and Saturdays.

Training site

The Community Cares Clinic is also a clinical training site for NIU students in all of the health professions. Peters said that aspect makes the facility a unique resource for the community.

“Faculty from our College of Health and Human Sciences are really committed to the concept of learning through service,” Peters said.

“To have nationally-recognized professors with active research programs involved in this clinic is ultimately a huge benefit to the overall health of those we serve at this clinic and in the larger community.”

Poorten and Peters say the clinic would not have become a reality without the support of three generous private benefactors. The Community Development Corporation of The National Bank and Trust Corporation, Zea Mays Holdings, and a donation from Dave and Suzanne Juday, raised $650,000 to cover initial start-up costs and operational expenses.

In addition, KishHealth System and NIU have invested more than $1.2 million to construct, furnish, equip and staff the clinic.

Michael Cullen, CEO of NB&T, chair of the KishHealth System Board of Directors, and a member of the clinic’s board of directors, hopes the clinic eventually will be self-sustaining with help from federal funding sources and community philanthropy.

The next phase for the clinic’s eight-member board is to pursue federal designations that will allow the facility to receive operation-sustaining reimbursement rates. The clinic board is comprised of representatives from the health system, NIU, the private donors and the physician group that has medical oversight of the clinic.

“There are many regulations involved in obtaining these designations, and the process is very time consuming,” Cullen explained. “With local donors behind this project, we were able to get the doors open sooner and get services to the people who urgently needed access to medical care.”

History of the project

NIU purchased the former Monsanto property in 2005 with federal grant dollars. By 2008, the university had remodeled the massive building into state-of-the-art facilities for its Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic, Physical Therapy Clinic and Reading Clinic. Space on the south side of the building was set aside for what would become the Community Cares Clinic, and over the past year, that space took shape with the construction of exam rooms, offices and a medical laboratory.

A medical crisis hit the DeKalb-Sycamore community in 2007 when plummeting reimbursements caused local physician practices to stop seeing Medicaid patients. Kishwaukee Hospital and state Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, were inundated with telephone calls from desperate individuals and concerned social service providers.

Later that year, Pritchard organized the first meeting of key DeKalb County healthcare providers to address access to primary care for the Medicaid population and the uninsured. Eventually, the group narrowed to the key players, KishHealth System and NIU.

Cullen also saw an opportunity for the bank to commit financial resources to helping the low- and moderate-income population in the community. The bank’s board of directors saw the Community Cares Clinic as a worthy way to reinvest in the community and help several thousand individuals and families get the primary healthcare they needed. NB&T and its partner, Zea Mays Holdings, formed the NB&T Community Development Corporation to manage start-up funding for the clinic.

Physician staffing came together with the help of a Sycamore group practice. Drs. George Gonnella, Asad Shah and Jamison Allen stepped forward to provide medical oversight for the clinic. Clinic staff includes David Wester, a physician assistant; NIU faculty member, Traci Costigan, a nurse practitioner, and certified medical assistants. Several of the staff members are bilingual in Spanish and English. More than 200 patients have already been seen.

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