Grants eyed to expand city health services

Evanston officials think they’ve found a way the city can expand its delivery of health services without spending more local tax dollars to do it.

The solution Health Director Evonda Thomas outlined for aldermen last week is to establish a federally qualified health center in partnership with other health organizations in the community that could qualify for reimbursement of much of its operating costs from federal grants.

Thomas said the health center could provide a range of services including primary, preventive and prenatal care; dental, reproductive health, mental health and senior services, as well as chronic disease management. The city has scaled back its clinical health services in recently years so that it now only offers a dental clinic.

She said that with the federal aid and fees for services, the expanded program should be "revenue neutral" for the city.

She said the nearest example of a federally qualified health center is the Lake County Health Department.

That agency’s 2009 annual report shows that Lake County, with a population about nine times that of Evanston, spent about $20 million from property taxes on its health department, as well as $22 million from federal and state grants and $25 million from other revenue sources including reimbursements and fees for service.

Evanston’s health department this year will spend about $1.3 million from property taxes while taking in about $333,000 in state and federal grants and $683,000 in license and fee revenue.

Thomas said she is meeting with local hospitals and other health care providers to assess their interest in collaborating on the project and said she hopes the program can include an academic component that would make it a host site for medical residents needing clinical experience.

She said that while the expanded health program might be located in the Civic Center, she believes it would be better placed at a site more accessible to residents with the greatest need for health services.

Aldermen indicated they support the effort to expand services, but Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said he wants to make sure that it doesn’t become a new liability — a new cost center — for the city.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked whether there would be income limits on who could receive service from the program. Thomas said the program would be able to serve people of all income levels and would have income-based sliding-fee scales for care.

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