By Megan Dooley
An Oak Park clinic that caters to children in need was left off the list of health centers slated to become Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC), thanks to federal government budget cuts of more than $170 million. For the Children's Clinic, that means there will be no expansion to provide care for adults as well as kids.
The Children's Clinic, 320 Lake St., initially applied for the grant back in December of 2010. The federal government pledged to award more than $200 million in grant money, with the funds slated to be to be divvied up among some 300 health care centers across the country. In total, 800 centers applied for the grant funding.
But by the time awards were announced, funding had dwindled to a mere $28.8 million, and only 67 health centers were awarded the money to achieve FQHC status.
The Children's Clinic was not one of them, though back when the funding totaled more than $200 million, the clinic estimated a 50 percent chance of being granted the funds to obtain that status, which would have required that they expand the scope of the operation.
"Once you become an FQHC you're mandated to serve the entire family," said Jill Marie Aller, marketing and development manager for the Children's Clinic.
That made sense to the people at the clinic, who often get asked by parents why they can't get the same care their kids do. "I think it's just easier for the parents to be seen at the same facility," Aller said.
Had the funding come through for the Children's Clinic to become an FQHC, Aller said they expected an award of somewhere in the ballpark of $650,000. But that's really just a guess.
"We were never sure how much money we were going to get," she said.
Expanding the client base would also have meant expanding the size of the operation, and Aller said the plan was to add a second facility nearby to treat additional patients. "We had a whole transition plan," Aller noted, which included adding additional staff.
But for now, things will remain largely the same.
The clinic currently services children from infancy to 18 years, and clients come not only from Oak Park but from the city of Chicago and approximately 50 other communities in Cook County. The clinic caters to impoverished patients, and every child treated must qualify under the federal poverty guidelines.
The number of children served at the Children's Clinic has skyrocketed in the past five years, and in their last fiscal year, the clinic has provided medical care, dental care and social services to more than 3,200 children whose parents cannot afford private health care. Approximately 20 percent of those children reside in Oak Park.
Treatment for these kids is paid for in part through a government insurance program called All Kids, which provides health care funding for low-income children. But that money doesn't go very far, and covers a mere fraction of the amount necessary for the Children's Clinic to provide their patients with necessary medical and dental care.
A local organization makes up the difference.
"At this time the support we receive from the Oak Park-River Forest Infant Welfare Society continues to be both crucial and beneficial to our operating costs," said Leah Beckwith, president of the board of directors of the Children's Clinic, in a press release provided by the clinic about being denied the federal funding to become a FQHC.
Children's Clinic Executive Director Elizabeth Lippitt said the clinic will continue to seek out additional funding to ease the burden on the Oak Park-River Forest Infant Welfare Society.
"It is our plan to work with our elected leaders to try and increase our reimbursement from the state, which would be closer to the actual cost of the care that we provide," she said. "We will also continue to look for support from the community through grants and donations."
"We always do depend on the support of the community," Aller said.