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Manager: Health center won’t add to city budget burden

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Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says a proposed federally qualified health center in Evanston won't add to the city's budget problems.

The city has partnered with Chicago-based Erie Family Health Care to seek a federal grant to open a branch of Erie's operation in Evanston and Bobkiewicz and Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl went to Washington last week to lobby for approval of the grant.

A decision on the grant is expected in August, and Bobkiewicz says that if it is approved the new center would be run by Erie and funded by a combination of reimbursements from private insurance programs and federal insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid plus private fundraising.

"It's not a grant to the city, it's a grant to Erie to expand their existing operations to a new location in Evanston," Bobkiewicz said.

He said the city would have three roles in the project:

  • It would provide temporary quarters for the startup of the program in now vacant space in the basement of the Civic Center that formerly was used by the city's Health Department.
  • It would apply for certain specialized state and federal grants that only local health departments are eligible to receive. These could include fnding for continuation of the city's dental clinic and for childhood obesity or sexually transmitted disease treatment programs.
  • It would serve as a vehicle for private fundraising to support the center. 

Bobkiewicz said Erie officials don't believe the Civic Center site is suitable as a permanent location for the health center, because of limited parking and limited access to public transportation.

So, assuming the three-year startup grant is approved, Erie will apply in the fall for a federal grant for capital funds to build a more permanent facility elsewhere in the city.

But the Civic Center space can be "a temporary or intermediate facility" until Erie has been able to raise the capital needed for a separate site, the manager said.

"So we're contributing space we already have, that's already set up as examining rooms and offices. It won't require any improvements, just some cleanup," Bobkiewicz added.

Noting that budget shortfalls forced the city to drop most of its health care service programs a few years ago, he called the Erie proposal "a pretty elegant solution that allows us to bring services back to the community but not require local taxpayers to pick up the cost."

He said Erie already operates several clinics around Chicago with no municipal support, and said they have a reputation of running a very tight business.

He said Erie's board has told its senior staff that the initiative in Evanston can only work if there's a business model to support it. If reimbursements and fundraising don't cover the costs, he added, "chances are the service goes away."

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