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Chicago Family Health Center—Building Healthy Communities with Multipartisan Support

By Dr. Kohar Jones
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On a sunny October afternoon, the Chicago Family Health Center, where I work as a family physician, held its First Annual Founder’s Luncheon at the historic South Shore Cultural Center.  “Celebrating 34 Years of Building Strong Communities” was the theme of the day, with a keynote address by Julie Hamos, Director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

Current Board President Nick Valadez honored his father, Lupe Valadez, one of the founding board members, along with the Claretian priests who responded to the need for health care in a community devastated by mill closings to found Chicago Family Health Center.  The fledgling organization initially struggled to survive, but thirty four years later has more than hit its stride to become a strong and expanding presence in Chicago’s Southeast  Side.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, followed by the Affordable Care Act of 2010, have given us the funds we need to expand our services to care for our communities.

I joined the organization two years ago as a National Health Service Corps Scholar fresh out of residency, eager to staff a brand new, tiny clinic carved out of two unused band practice rooms at George Washington High School in the East Side neighborhood.

We were a bilingual clinic in a bilingual neighborhood and quickly outgrew our space.  Luckily, Chicago Family Health Center received $1,295,950 in stimulus funds, $212,000 of which purchased medical and dental equipment to support a new clinic along the main commercial district of the East Side.  Loyal patients followed us into the new center, and brought their friends and families too.

Seven new jobs were created at our health center as a result of stimulus funds.

In just over a year, the Chicago Family Health Center East Side site is operating at full capacity.  As an organization, Chicago Family Health Center surpassed our goal 82,000 patient visits in a year, earning every worker a bonus payment. Our goal for next year is 106,000 patient visits.

Luckily we are still expanding.  Over the summer, CFHC opened a new health center in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood. Recently, the Chicago Family Health Center received a $6.257 million grant to rebuild the Pullman Center, our oldest and most crowded facility.   Our portion of the $11 billion made available to community health centers in the Affordable Care Act will allow us to grow to meet community needs.

It is a wonderful and exciting time to be working in community health, and with Chicago Family Health Center.

At the Founders’ Luncheon, about 120 interested local business and community members came together to celebrate a generation of community health success over mushroom ravioli and fresh fruit cheesecake.  We sat at round tables looking out to a view of fall foliage framing the South Shore beach and the Chicago skyline in the distance.  We listened to Julie Hamos, the woman who would lead Illinois Medicaid to a healthier tomorrow.

“I was asked to come to speak on the importance of developing agency and community partnerships in sustaining community organizations,” Hamos opened her talk.  “Instead I will talk about partnerships to sustain people.”

She described national health reform as a “once in a generation opportunity” for health care improvement.   According to the Affordable Care Act, 32 million people nationwide who are currently uninsured will get health insurance by 2014. One to 1.5 million of those people are in Illinois.

Everyone who earns less than 133% of the national poverty level will qualify for Medicaid (currently the poverty level is $10,830 for a single person; $22,050 for a family of four). Hamos anticipated that half of the currently uninsured people in Illinois would qualify for Medicaid.  That means about 700,000 people would be added to the 2.6 million people on Medicaid in Illinois now, entering the system on

January 1, 2014, the day on which that part of the Affordable Care Act goes into law.

“There is not too much time to get this all organized,” said Hamos.

Medicaid will be 24% of the insurance market in Illinois.  With this larger market share, there is the possibility of changing the approach of insurance. Instead of paying claims after people are sick, Medicaid will work to keep people healthy. An important concern will be integrating provider networks so people can keep their doctors whether they move off of or on to Medicaid or other insurance.

“These are exciting opportunities,” Hamos said, and added that change is “around the corner.”

Warren Brodine, Chief Executive Officer for Chicago Family Health Center, ended the luncheon calling for multi-partisan support for health.

“Healthy people make for healthy communities,” said Brodine. “And that’s what we’re all about.”


Julie Hamos’ Nine Strategies to Reform Illinois Medicaid:

1.      Streamline enrollment

2.      Expand/strengthen medical homes

3.      Test new models of care management (e.g. accountable care organizations)

4.      Change payment structures (e.g. bundle/capitated/pay for performance) to pay providers to keep people healthy

5.      Partner with other payers to promote continuity of care and create a single group of outcomes

6.      Strengthen home and community based infrastructure

7.      Implement electronic medical records and health information exchanges

8.      Expand the pipeline of primary care physicians

9.      Expand prevention and wellness initiatives

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  1. L.

    How does one locate practitioners in the drsforamerica org. who practice in Chicago? Is there a local directory?

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