BRIGHTON PARK — With the opening of a new neighborhood health center, elementary school students will no longer rely on trips to faraway clinics or even emergency rooms for basic medical care.
Tuesday’s debut of the Davis Health and Wellness Center, inside the annex of Nathan Davis Elementary School, 3050 W. 39th Place, was a significant step forward for the Brighton Park community, which has been described as “medically underserved” and a “highest-need neighborhood."
“You never see a health center inside a school. People don’t know what it is until they see it,” said Mary Orth, a nurse practitioner employed by the University of Illinois at Chicago, just one of several organizations that have partnered with neighborhood leaders to open the health center.
The facility — which includes five exam rooms, a lab and administrative space — will be staffed by advanced practice nurses, a licensed clinical social worker, a nurse educator and a nutritionist. Three workers will help families prepare for looming changes under the Affordable Care Act.
Registered patients will have access to complete medical services, from acute care and sick visits to mental health assessments and group counseling. Patients are encouraged to continue receiving care from their family doctor, if they have one.
The cost of the $731,000 project is being covered by grant money, both from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. A grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois is also being used to fund the program, officials said.
The clinic first will be open to students at Davis, Burroughs and Shields elementary schools and then will expand to include the rest of the community.
The clinic has been years in the making.
Patrick Brosnan, executive director of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, said it began with a 2006 UIC assessment of health care availability.
He said what the researchers found was troubling: A lack of local health clinics meant families have been traveling out of the neighborhoods to visit doctors, and some have relied emergency rooms for care.
“We knew as an organization that we needed to find partnerships to help develop a set of services to help families in need,” he said.
Through a lot of community meetings and grant proposals, they found those partnerships in a long list of civic, health and educational institutions: The University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, the UIC Office of Community Engagement and Neighborhood Health Partnerships, Mile Square Health Center and Chicago Public Schools.
Representatives from those groups were on hand at Tuesday's ribbon-cutting.
Cynthia Boyd, director of UIC's office of community engagement and neighborhood health partnership, said she learned "far more than I ever understood about the concerns of the Latino community and Brighton Park" throughout the process, then credited the numerous Brighton Park parents who've lent their voice in the effort to bring the clinic to the neighborhood.
Zenaida Diaz, a 46-year-old mother of three Davis students, already registered her kids — a pair of twin boys in fourth grade and a daughter in sixth — for care at the center.
Through a translator, she said having health care service literally just steps away for her children was piece of mind.
"No more missed time," she said. "No more waiting."