DeKALB – Theresa Mullis no longer drives 45 minutes to see a doctor.
Mullis of DeKalb and her four children all have asthma. Between their condition and all the routine medical care children need, they often find themselves in a physician’s waiting room. But when their local doctor stopped accepting Medicaid patients in 2007, Mullis began driving to clinics in Rockford, St. Charles and North Aurora.
“When one kid had to go to the doctor, I would pull all the kids out of school because I didn’t know if I would be back in time to pick them up,” she said.
Now Mullis and her children are patients at the Community Cares Clinic, a partnership between KishHealth System and Northern Illinois University that caters to uninsured, underinsured and Medicaid patients. The clinic began seeing patients Aug. 17 and has already seen 500 people.
“This clinic represents a lifeline to many individuals and families who don’t have insurance or access to routine health care,” NIU President John Peters said Tuesday at the clinic’s formal unveiling.
When health care providers in DeKalb County stopped taking patients on government aid because of low reimbursements and long payment cycles, state Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, decided something had to be done. Tri-County Clinic, on the campus of Kishwaukee College in Malta, sees uninsured and Medicaid patients from DeKalb, Lee and Ogle counties, but the NIU-operated clinic is difficult to reach for patients without transportation. And in a county where more than 13,000 people are on Medicaid, more local options are needed, Peters said.
Pritchard assembled a team that included representatives of NIU, KishHealth, DeKalb Clinic and the DeKalb County Health Department. The team also included the Community Development Corporation, Zea Mays Holdings and Dave and Suzanne Juday, who together raised $650,000 to cover the initial start-up. The team then spent months researching and investigating options to bring primary care to local low-income people.
“What I loved about it was there was no resistance to the concept, just mechanics, how to make it happen,” Dave Juday said. “We just said don’t talk, don’t plan, just do it. Don’t talk about the feds, don’t talk about the state, let’s just do this.”
KishHealth and NIU have put up more than $1.2 million to keep the clinic operational for at least three years, by which time it should be bringing in some revenue, KishHealth president and CEO Kevin Poorten said. He stressed that the clinic was started without any funds from Springfield or Washington.
The clinic began slowly and has ramped up operations over the last two months, Kish Health vice president of business development Joe Dant said. In its first week, it saw patients from Hope Haven homeless shelter. Then it reached out to the county health department, then to patients in the hospital emergency room.
Administrators stress the clinic is not an urgent care clinic; it is a primary care clinic where patients can get wellness and preventive care as well as treatment for illnesses and where they can build relationships with the providers.
The clinic is staffed by a full-time physician assistant, who has a team of three doctors he can contact for consultations if he needs them. Like the Tri-County Clinic, NIU will also use the Community Cares Clinic for hands-on training of students in health-related fields like nursing, dietetics and clinical laboratory science.
Physician assistant David Wester called the clinic “the best of all worlds.” Many of his patients came in after being referred by the hospital or health department for follow-up care, he said, and have become regular patients.
In an example of the role preventive care can play in a community, Wester said a resident of Hope Haven came in with pertussis, a highly contagious respiratory illness. The next day, staff from the clinic and health department evaluated the rest of the residents of the shelter and treated those who needed it.
“We were able to avert what could have been a huge community outbreak of pertussis,” he said. “Each of those people could have been out in the community and could have ended up in the emergency room.”
Health care is a major part of the national agenda, but the clinic will continue to operate regardless of what happens on the national stage, Poorten said.
“It comes down to this community taking control of its own destiny, not waiting for the people in Springfield or the people in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Every day we wait is another day folks out there don’t have access to primary care.”
Community Cares Clinic
3100 Sycamore Road, Ste. 1024, DeKalb
Open for medical appointments 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday