A new health center will open soon in Evanston, atonement perhaps for the City Council’s 2007 decision to close the oldest health center in the state, the City-run health center at 2100 Ridge Ave.

In the years that the City’s health clinic has been closed, many Evanston residents have fallen on hard times. Foreclosures spiked. Everything, even necessities cost too much. Dental care, health care, even preventive measures were deferred or abandoned.

In 2010, Evonda Thomas, health director for the City of Evanston presented some disturbing information about one public health concern in the nearly three years the health center had been closed: The incidence of chlamydia and gonorrhea in the 14-to-24 age group increased by 25 percent and 73 percent of all reported sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Evanston were in this age group.

Doubtless there are other solemn statistics about those who had depended on the City’s health services.

Only Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who served as Seventh Ward Alderman at the time, has said publicly that she regretted her vote. Two years ago, and again a week ago, Ms. Tisdahl said her vote to close the clinic was the “worst vote” of her aldermanic career.

The new health center, a federally qualified health center, or FQHC, will be an expanded and reconfigured version of the former City-run health center. Funding will come from private and federal contributions, as compared with the former health center, which was funded largely by local property taxes.

The clinic will receive $650,000 per year for three years through federal grants, and NorthShore University Health System has contributed $1.8 million to the clinic.

And the safety net will be wider, to include not only Evanstonians but also residents of Skokie whose income qualifies them for these services. More than 25 percent of Evanston and Skokie residents are considered low income and uninsured, said Dr. Lee Francis, executive director of Erie Family Health Center, the City’s partner in this clinic. He has promised that the clinic will provide affordable, accessible and high-quality care to those in need.

The clinic will be accessible by public transportation (after it is relocated from its temporary home in the Morton Civic Center), and the services will be provided in Spanish, English and perhaps other languages. Finally, he said, “No one will be turned away due to inability to pay.”

The new clinic is likely to ease the burden on both St. Francis and Evanston hospitals, where too often the emergency room became the health clinic. It is also likely to reduce the wait list at the Evanston Hospital clinic, which Ms. Thomas said in 2010 was approximately four months.

With ever-increasing costs of medical care and preventive measures, with animus by some groups toward federally-funded health care, such as Medicare and Medicaid, the future of health care for low-and middle-income residents is no sure thing – this despite the finding by the United States Supreme Court that the universal health care law is Constitutional.

Whatever the outcome of federal legislative fights, it is nice to have an FQHC in our corner.

Welcome, Erie Family Health Services, welcome to Evanston.

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