Access was the theme of the week for the Pritzker School of Medicine’s Community Health Elective, and so we took a field trip to Friend Family Health Center, just across the street from the University of Chicago at 55th and Cottage Grove. It is a federally qualified health center (FQHC) that grew from a clinic originally founded by a Mr. and Mrs. Berman and Hannah Friend back in the 1930s. With funds from the Michael Reese Health Trust it was built into its current location in 1997, and designated as an FQHC in 1998. Now Friend Family Health Center has expanded to 5 clinic sites serving 30,000 of the 800,000 people of Chicago’s South Side .
The warm and inviting Interim Chief Medical Officer Kathy Jones gave us a quick tour of the facilities. The sprawling building lining the corner of a city block has a cozy clinic area, including internal medicine, OB/gyn and pediatric sections. Dr Jones told us of their specialty clinics, including asthma, adolescent and pediatric infectious disease.The waiting room for the pediatric section was filled with childrens’ books, made possible in part by the Reach Out and Read program staffed by Pritzker medical students as one of this year’s Health Disparities class projects.
Downstairs were the support services for the families. A nutritionist. Behavioral health and social services. A WIC office (Women, Infants, and Children–the federal grant aid program for states to provide food, nutrition advice and connections to healthcare for moms and babies). “Medicine could not exist without them,” said Dr. Jones. “The psycho-social part of health is so important.”
Back in the conference room upstairs, the welcoming and thoughtful CEO Verneda Bachus taught the class the basics of federally qualified health centers. FQHCs were established as the health safety net as part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty in the 1960s. Community health centers need to meet five criteria: be located in or serve a high needs community, make themselves accessible to all providing services on a sliding scale, provide comprehensive primary care services, and be governed by a community board in which the majority are users of the clinic–all while meeting quality and governance standards. FQHCs jump through the hoops to meet the requirements laid out in a handful of federal decrees, making themselves eligible for federal grants to meet the needs of the un(der)insured.
The class ended with Kimberly Hobson, the dynamic executive director of the South Side Healthcare Collaborative (SSHC), talking about the shifting vision of the loose coalition of over 30 federally qualified health centers, free and charitable clinics and community hospitals on the South Side. SSHC began with the University of Chicago Medicine’s Patient Advocates in the emergency room connecting patients to the community health centers that would best serve their primary care needs. Now the SSHC members are transforming the collaborative into an organization committed to improving the health of residents of Chicago’s South Side by advancing the work of its members through service, education, networking and advocacy.
How to ensure access to quality affordable medical care for the underserved in the future? By establishing and maintaining community health centers, and recruiting and successfully training and retaining the future community health workforce.
How to build the community health workforce? By introducing students early to the joys–and challenges–of working in a community health center. “I loved the visit today and it makes me excited for my future!!!” said one medical student on our return to campus.
Success! Many thanks to all who made the visit possible.