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Senator Richard Durbin toured Erie Family Health Center, 1285 Hartrey, on Aug. 5 and then led a roundtable discussion on the effects of new dental and medical initiatives.
Erie Family Health Center President and CEO Lee Francis, Health Center Director Avery Hart and Dental Director Lisa Kearney gave a tour of Erie’s dental clinic to the senator, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, Second Ward Alderman Peter Braithwaite and representatives of regional and state professional dental associations.
The clinic has five dental suites and offers “comprehensive [dental] care,” said Dr. Kearney. With electronic medical record-keeping and with the primary-care and dental-care professionals in the same building, patients at Erie have an integrated system of health care.
Among the dental services offered are cleaning, x-rays, fluoride applications and advice and support on dental and oral hygiene.
All the doctors speak Spanish, Dr. Hart said. For patients needing translation from a language in which no staff member is fluent, “there is also a cross-cultural interpretive service that we can call – to Seattle or Boston, for example – for help in translation,” he said.
As a federally qualified health clinic, Erie offers care to families regardless of whether they have insurance. When the clinic opened, said Dr. Hart, about 50-60% of the patients were uninsured. “We are swinging it down to 40-30%,” he said, by helping them enroll in the Affordable Care Act. More patients have been covered since the state made a change to Medicaid, again adding coverage for dental-health services.
Sen. Durbin asked about the differences in dental-care costs. Erie charges about $92 for a visit – cleaning and x-rays – as compared with about $150 for the same procedures in a typical dentist’s office, said Dr. Kearney.
The senator also asked about the difference in compensation for medical personnel there. “There is a difference,” said Dr. Kearney, “but most people who are drawn to a community health center [see that] the moral compensation is a lot higher.”
Erie Evanston/Skokie Health Center moved to its Hartrey Avenue location in November 2013, having started in Evanston earlier that year. By the time of that move, Erie had served 1,400 medical and 850 dental patients in the area.
Erie filled a gap in Evanston that had existed since City Council voted to close the City’s health clinic in 2007. Both Sen. Durbin and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky supported the effort to bring a federally qualified health clinic to the area.
“Dick has been absolutely wonderful in helping Evanston get funding for the health center. Congresswoman Schakowsky was also tremendously helpful,” Mayor Tisdahl said.