The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded Erie Family Health Center a grant to open a new health center in Evanston.

This grant will provide $650,000 of annual support toward the operation of the center. It is one of 219 new grants nationwide and one of 11 in the State of Illinois.

“This is a great day for the City of Evanston. A Federally Qualified Health Center will be the catalyst for improving the health and wellness of Evanston residents,” Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said.

The mayor thanked Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky “for their steadfast leadership” in winning support for the project.

She said the center “will make a real impact in people’s lives and leverage the services already provided by Evanston’s Health Department.”

In 2007, after more than100 years of operation, the Evanston Health Department eliminated all direct medical services except pediatric dentistry, as a result of budget constraints

The mayor says that left many area residents without access to primary health care services. To help fill that need, the city partnered with Erie, which operates community health centers in Chicago, to develop a plan for the health center.

Erie has served Chicago residents “for more than 50 years, and this grant allows us to partner with the City of Evanston to expand our reach,” said Dr. Lee Francis, President and CEO, Erie Family Health Center. “There is a need for affordable health care in Evanston and Skokie and the surrounding communities, and we look forward to the opportunity to serve patients and provide them with high-quality care.”

Erie now serves about 37,500 patients a year — many from low-income families — at 11 health centers, including three large primary care centers, a teen health center, five school-based health centers and two oral health centers.

Erie will expand its comprehensive service delivery model to Evanston and the surrounding suburbs, providing primary medical services, oral health services, behavioral health, and enabling services all under one roof.

The Evanston Erie site will serve as a medical home for the target population, allowing patients to establish an ongoing relationship with their provider of choice, receive a variety of health care services and receive referrals for services not offered on site.

“Currently only 12 percent of low-income people in the Evanston area receive care in Chicago community health centers, leaving the majority of residents without access to affordable care,” Sen. Durbin said. “This new health center would help fill that gap.”

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky said a quarter of African Americans and Latinos in the Evanston and Skokie area live below the poverty line.

She said the new center would be able to serve over 5,000 patients in Evanston and nearby communities and would “enhance the healthcare ‘safety net.’”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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