BELMONT CRAGIN — Cook County officials are making final preparations to build a $12 million public health clinic on the grounds of Hanson Park Elementary School, 5411 W. Fullerton Ave., raising the prospect of free health and dental care for thousands of uninsured neighbors in Belmont Cragin.
The City Council is expected next month to give crews the final OK to demolish a long-vacant field house on the school grounds to build a 24,000-square-foot clinic with 30 exam rooms, almost triple the size of an existing county clinic in Logan Square, officials said.
The Logan Square Health Center, 2840 W. Fullerton Ave., would relocate its staff and patients to the new facility once it's completed in late 2018 or early 2019, according to Debra Carey, the county's chief operating officer for ambulatory services.
The clinic would be built on the site of a vacant field house at Hanson Park Elementary School, 5411 W. Fullerton Ave. [DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin]
"That health center served us well, but the area around it has really changed in recent years," Carey said. "The term du jour is gentrification, but whatever you call it, many of our patients have moved west."
The two-story building would add nursing staff to fill the extra space, and it would offer both dental and gynecological services, neither of which are offered at the current site. It would also host nutritional and cooking classes, and patients would be encouraged to use the neighboring school's track and field for exercise, Carey said.
Once it's running at full capacity, Carey expects the site — one of 17 free clinics operated around the county — to host about 37,000 doctors' visits annually, she said.
The proposal has been brewing since at least 2015, when doctors told newly elected Cook County Commissioner Luis Arroyo Jr. that they had "outgrown" the Logan Square facility, Arroyo said.
Instead of expanding it, county health officials began looking for a new location, where more immediate neighbors could take advantage. They landed in Belmont Cragin, whose estimated 12,000 undocumented residents has one of the largest clusters of uninsured people in the city, Arroyo said.
Doctors and patients have "outgrown" the existing Logan Square Health Center, according to Cook County Commissioner Luis Arroyo Jr. [DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin]
"This is what the community needs — services for youth and adults, for Spanish and Polish-speaking households," Arroyo said. "These are people who don't usually have a lot of choices in their health care, and now they're going to have a state-of-the-art facility right in their own backyard."
Families in the neighborhood have long asked for better access to regular checkups, according to Graciela Guzman, who helped draft the sweeping Belmont Cragin Quality of Life Plan, which published last year with backing from the Northwest Side Housing Center.
"Especially with the uncertainty in the [Affordable Care Act] right now, we're trying to make sure the community has accessible resources, regardless of income," Guzman said. "And having a consistent medical home they know they can turn to is key."
Demolition of the field house could begin as early as November, Arroyo said.