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Walgreens Clinic Addresses 'Health Desert' on South Side

By Wendell Hutson | March 6, 2013 8:24am | Updated on March 6, 2013 9:38am

CHATHAM — On any given day the Take Care Clinic at a South Side Walgreens will treat more than 25 patients for everything from simple colds to upper respiratory infections.

"And that's good because it means we are needed here in the community," said Kizzie Richards, a medical assistant at the clinic.

Bridget Martinez, an executive assistant at Walgreens, 11 E. 75th St., said the clinic has an on-site pharmacy manager available 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. weekends to answer questions about prescriptions and make recommendations about over-the-counter medicines.

"You won't find that at every clinic," Martinez said.

When the clinic opened in 2007, Walgreens wanted to make health care more convenient and affordable to its customers, said Gregg Wasson, a former pharmacist who's now president and CEO of Walgreen Co.

But now the appeal of the clinics has grown beyond pure convenience.

Much like the food deserts in many South Side communities without any full-service grocery stores, "health deserts" also exist, Nicole Alexander said.

"Look around this area, and you will be hard-pressed to find a health clinic. And if you do, it won't offer the same services at the same prices either," said Alexander, a nurse practitioner at the Take Care Clinic. "A lot of 'neighborhood' clinics require patients to have health insurance and ... some only accept certain kinds of insurance. We accept all plans, including cash-paying customers."

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) agreed that Walgreens is fulfilling a dire community need.

"Access to affordable health care in minority communities has historically been a problem, and local clinics like the Take Care Clinic are changing that," Sawyer said.

Patients at the clinic Tuesday seemed happy with the care they received.

Christopher Jones, a 40-year-old electrical technician, stopped by Walgreens Tuesday to pick up a prescription for his wife.

"I like this Walgreens. It has everything I need here. I can buy a few items, get my prescriptions filled and get my blood pressure checked," said Jones, who lives in Grand Crossing. "There are not many places around here you could go to get medical treatment besides a hospital."

Convenience seems to be the top reason why residents utilize the clinic.

"I live here in Chatham, and for the last seven years I have come here for treatment. The people are nice, I get good customer service and the prices are reasonable," said Ann Rawls, a 54-year-old nurse's assistant.

Short wait times, competitive prices and quality service are other reasons the clinic has been well-received by the community, Alexander said.

"It's hard to find good, quality health care at affordable prices," she said. "We are limited as to health services we could provide to a patient because we are a clinic. We cannot treat sexually transmitted diseases, do X-rays and, obviously, perform surgery. But we do see a lot of patients for upper respiratory infections, routine examinations, flu shots."

About 50 percent of patients seen at the clinic have health insurance, she said. Those without insurance are expected to pay for services upon completion of their treatment.

Prices range from $31 for a flu shot to $219 for shingles treatment. A simple physical is $69.

While the clinic is convenient for residents without cars and those who shop at Walgreens, there are some things the clinic should not be used for, Richards said.

"I see young mothers bringing their small children here on a regular basis, as if this is their child's primary doctor, and that is not our intent," she said. "As a mother myself, I think when you have small children under the age of 5 and you have [health] insurance, you should not use a clinic as your child's primary place of treatment, even if it is convenient."