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At its May 24 meeting, City Council endorsed City Health Department Director Evonda Thomas’s plan to open a Federally Qualified Health Clinic (FQHC) in Evanston. Presented as part of a new vision for the health department, the move was also seen as an attempt to correct the 2007 decision to shut down the City’s public health clinic, a move that the City now acknowledges was a mistake.
The statistics are sobering. Since the 2007 closure, the incidence of chlamydia and gonorrhea in the 14-to-24 age group has increased by 25 percent, Ms. Thomas reported, and 73 percent of all reported sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were in this age group. (HIV/AIDS cases are not included; for privacy reasons they are only reported on a countywide basis.) The first six months of 2010, said Ms. Thomas, are expected to show an even greater increase in STIs than the previous two years.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl asked about the Evanston Township High School clinic, which remains open and serves Evanston youth. Ms. Thomas said that the consent requirements at the high school limit the access of many students, as only about 45 percent have parental consent to use those services.
Ms. Thomas stressed that the STI statistics are just one public health indicator and that she feared there may be more health problems present in the community yet to be identified. The 2007 closure, said Ms. Thomas, has also limited access for some residents to specialty services and limited access to family-planning options. The new clinic would provide comprehensive care for the community, she said.
A Federally Qualified Health Clinic would be run by a partnership created between the City and another nonprofit organization. As laws regarding consent do not apply to a City-run clinic, more teens would have access to care, said Ms. Thomas, in response to a question from Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward. An FQHC, defined as any clinic that receives funding under Section 330 of the Public Health Act, provides revenue and reimbursement opportunities that Ms. Thomas expects will make the clinic revenue- neutral for the City. The clinic would accept private insurance as well as government plans, and fees would be assessed on a sliding scale, based upon income level.
The location of the proposed new clinic has yet to be finalized, but Ms. Thomas hinted that it would not be in the Civic Center. Residents do not want to go for medical services to the same place they pay parking tickets and buy yard-waste stickers, she said, adding that the locations under consideration would be easily accessible by both train and bus.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl praised the idea, saying she had long supported and campaigned on bringing a public health clinic to Evanston. The Council unanimously endorsed the idea, and Ms. Thomas has already begun working to find partners.