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NORMAL — The Community Health Care Clinic in Normal is among two free and charitable clinics nationwide selected in the first round of grants intended to broaden the definition of health care.

The clinic, 900 Franklin Ave., and CommunityHealth of Chicago each are receiving $100,000 from Americares to participate in a new program to improve the quality of patient care at free clinics by treating patients holistically and engaging them more in their care.

"We are honored to be selected as one of the first two clinics to move through this long and extensive transformation and happy to represent McLean County and free and charitable clinics nationwide," Community Health Care Clinic Executive Director Angie McLaughlin said.

The clinics were selected following a competitive application process, said Lindsay O'Brien, Americares senior director of U.S. programs and partnerships.

The goal of the 18-month effort is for the clinics to achieve recognition from the National Committee of Quality Assurance (NCQA) as patient-centered medical homes.

"Our commitment is to provide the highest quality care for our patients and the patient-centered medical home is the perfect next step for us," McLaughlin said. "Patient-centered medical home certification through the NCQA means that we will be building better relationships between our patients and our clinical team."

"NCQA recognition is a gold standard for health care systems and providers nationwide," she said. "For a free clinic to work toward this is remarkable."

"They deserve it," clinic patient Ida Grant said of the clinic receiving the grant. "If it hadn't been for the clinic, my husband would not have found out he had prostate cancer."

The clinic is McLean County's medical home for low-income residents who are uninsured or underinsured and have chronic disease. "Last year, we saw 1,034 patients," McLaughlin said.

While the clinic has a staff of six full-time and two part-time employees, it relies on 50 volunteer doctors, nurses, office support staff and translators; on specialists who see clinic patients; and on Bloomington-Normal's two hospitals, which admit clinic patients.

The clinic's operating budget this year is $575,000. Money comes from foundations, individual donations, patient contributions, Normal Township, City of Bloomington Township and United Way of McLean County. The clinic receives no state or federal money for operations.

Americares, based in Stamford, Conn., works to save lives and improve health for people affected by poverty or disaster worldwide, O'Brien said. In the United States, Americares is the largest nonprofit provider of medical aid to organizations serving low-income and uninsured patients.

Americares is supported by donations from corporations, foundations and individuals and receives medicine and supplies from pharmaceutical and health care companies.

The patient-centered medical home model is a new initiative supported by the BD Foundation, the charitable arm of the medical technology company BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company), O'Brien said.

During the next 18 months, Americares will provide technical assistance and coach clinic staff to perform more complete health assessments of patients, including screening for oral health problems, depression and other behavioral health conditions; strengthening written care plans for patients, including responding to needs found in the assessments; connecting patients to needed outside resources that would improve their health, including mental health counseling, nutritional assistance, job coaching and housing; engaging patients more in their health care; expanding communication with patients outside the clinic, including with texting; expanding patient satisfaction surveys and making modifications based on survey results.

The money will be spent on staff training, technology improvements and adding a staff person, McLaughlin said.

"The goal is to improve the quality of care being provided to the patients," O'Brien said. "That improves health care for everyone in the community."

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Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech


Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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