Dr. Jennifer Weiser and a family of Erie Evanston/Skokie patients.Photo by Mike Kelly

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On Aug. 15, the Erie Evanston/Skokie Health Center welcomed U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky and other elected and public officials and guests to celebrate its first five years in Evanston/Skokie and to discuss future challenges and strategies in providing affordable and accessible healthcare.

Erie Evanston/Skokie Health Center was established in 2012 as the first community health center serving Evanston and Skokie. Today, it provides medical, dental, and behavioral health care for more than 7,000 patients. The majority of these patients are low-income, uninsured, or underinsured with few other options for affordable care.

“We are proud of how far we’ve come, but there is still significant need for affordable health care in this community,” said Dr. Lee Francis, Erie President and CEO, so the health center will soon expand by more than 8,000 square feet and double its patient capacity.

The Evanston/Skokie center is one of 13 centers operated by Erie in the City of Chicago and surrounding suburbs. Collectively Erie’s centers serve more than 70,000 medical patients and 12,500 dental patients.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who advocated for the establishment of the health center, was on hand to provide her perspective on the health care debate. “What you are doing outside of Congress is just as important as what is happening inside of Congress,” she said, stressing the critical importance and impact of grassroots activism in maintaining the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The ACA enabled Erie to open the Evanston/Skokie location and to enroll 9,000 patients in health care coverage across all Erie locations, said Erie in a prepared statement.

Rep. Schakowsky also discussed the Teaching Health Center program, which addresses the looming shortage of primary care providers by training young doctors to care for underserved patients in primary care settings rather than hospitals. In 2010, Erie became one of the first 11 Teaching Health Centers in the country with the launch of the McGaw Northwestern Family Medicine Residency Program at Erie Humboldt Park. To date, the program has graduated 39 doctors, almost all of whom have remained in primary care.

Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen, Evanston Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey and Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin re-affirmed the value of and need for community health centers in general and in Evanston and Skokie in particular.

“Some people wrongly believe that there is no need in this community,” said Ald. Rainey. “I am going to tell everyone I know about Erie, because a lot of people need Erie’s services.”

The event was part of Erie’s celebration of National Community Health Center Week, an annual observance to recognize and raise awareness about the scope and contributions of health centers.