BY KATIE MATTESON
Local residents could easily pass by the Health Care Network clinic on 904 State St. without knowing that just last year 2,028 clients were served there (and at the satellite clinic in Waterford) by 2,093 appointments and another 3,585 appointments took place offsite in medical and dental offices throughout the community.
It’s also notable that at the end of its 2016-2017 fiscal year on June 30, Health Care Network marked its 30th year of service to Racine County and continues its mission “to provide free/low cost health care to Racine County residents who are of limited income and medically uninsured.”
The clinic’s origins go back to a task force organized by Brenda Walsh OP following a daylong conference held in 1982 at the Siena Center to address the county’s high unemployment rate and the health care needs of those affected.
Racine County Community Clinic, Inc. incorporated in 1987 and received a five-year grant from the St. Mary’s Health Care Foundation. Basement space donated by First Presbyterian Church became the first clinic location.
In 1990, the clinic changed its name to Health Care Network Inc. and moved to 734 Lake Ave. in space donated by Dr. Elizabeth Allen Steffen.
In 1992, the clinic moved to 904 State St. thanks to a state grant and doubled the space in 2004 with the addition of an onsite dental clinic at 906 State St.
Other clinic milestones are listed on its website (healthcarenetwork.org).
What about the ACA?
During recent years, hasn’t the Affordable Care Act provided healthcare for everyone? Is there still a need for the clinic? Health Care Network executive director Alison Sergio explained that there’s a gap between the services provided by Medicaid and the subsidized insurance coverage provided by the ACA.
“The people we serve are primarily the working poor, adults living between 100 – 138 percent of the poverty line, along with the local homeless population” Sergio said. “We estimate that there are approximately 17,000 uninsured people in Racine County.”
According to the Wisconsin Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (WAFCC), “there are over 90 free & charitable clinics in Wisconsin serving over 60 counties. Free & charitable clinics are the safety net provider for 89,000 Wisconsinites. Post-ACA, close to 9 percent of Wisconsin residents have no health insurance with many counties still in the double digits for uninsured, and even more residents do not have dental insurance or access to mental health services.”
With an annual budget of $670,000, funded primarily by grants and private donations, the 11 staff members are supported by the 380 medical and dental professionals who donate their time or provide services at reduced rates.
The onsite volunteers include 13 physicians, 10 dentists, 18 nurses, two nurse practitioners, three dental hygienists, two dental assistants, one chiropractor and three office workers.
The offsite community volunteers, who see Health Care Network patients at their own clinics, include 250 physicians, 42 dentists, 21 nurse practitioners, one podiatrist, eight optometrists, two chiropractors, four audiologists, 17 pharmacies and eight diagnostic sites.
Sergio said that a large percentage of their patients have chronic health issues like diabetes and hypertension, which require daily medication. The clinic purchases insulin and other drugs in bulk and works with local pharmacies to get discount prices to provide pharmaceutical assistance.
Health Care Network recently received a grant from the CVS Health Foundation to hire a health coach to provide extra support to the clinic’s diabetic and hypertensive patients. This project is focused on providing the extra care and education needed to assist patients in meeting their health goals.
“Our clinic fills a critical need for health care services, particularly for hard-working adults struggling to make ends meet,” Sergio said. “This program will allow us to provide a more personal, tailored approach to meeting the unique needs of our diabetic and hypertensive population.”
Health Care Network does not cover emergency services, but does work with the charity care programs at area hospitals to help work out reduced fees and payment plans for their patients when the need for emergency services arises.
“We do everything we can to provide preventative services to keep our patients out of the emergency room,” Sergio said. “People without insurance often find themselves in urgent care and emergency rooms when they delay treatment.”
Thanks to a grant from the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters Ministry Fund, the clinic will add full-time social worker to the staff starting in July. The clinic will also continue to utilize graduate Social Work students from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
New help also arrived Jan. 30, when the first AmeriCorps VISTA member began serving at the clinic, designated as one of WAFCC’s VISTA member host sites for three years.
AmeriCorps VISTA is a national service program designed to alleviate poverty. AmeriCorps VISTA members make a year-long full-time commitment to serve on a specific project at a nonprofit organization, such as with WAFCC and the five host-site free & charitable clinics.
VISTA Standards of Excellence Projects for the Health Care Network include:
- Research and identify potential funding sources and strategic partnerships for HCN.
- Create a fundraising plan.
- Create and implement a media relations plan for HCN and WAFCC.
How to help
Those wishing to support the mission of the Health Care Network can help by:
- Signing up to get the newsletter to stay up to date with HCN activities. Call Regina at (262) 632-2400.
- Making a financial contribution via the website, healthcarenetwork.org
- Helping to grow the Health Care Network Endowment, managed by Racine Community Foundation, (262) 632-8474
- Dropping off items from the wish list (bathroom tissue, coffee, copy paper, dish detergent, paper cups, paper plates, paper towels, Post-It Notes – all sizes/colors, postage stamps)
- Joining the impressive list of volunteer physicians and dentists
- Remembering a friend or loved one with a contribution in their memory or honor! Birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, celebrations!
- Attending fundraisers, like the luncheon coming up on Friday, April 27 at Delta Hotel by Marriott Racine featuring Patti Vasquez, host of The Patti Vasquez Show on WGN Radio. Sergio said tickets are going fast to see the stand-up comedian and co-creator of the upcoming series called “Patti Happens.” Tickets are available on the website for $50 per person or a table of 10 for $500.
For more information, call Health Care Network at (262) 632-2400 or email email@example.com.