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Putting Care Right Next Door

New clinic continues commitment to health care access

By Mark Donahue

Even with the Affordable Care Act in effect, access to health care remains a challenge for millions of Americans — particularly those from low-income and minority groups. But access becomes much easier when your health care provider is in the same building where you live.

A new partnership on Chicago’s Near West Side has provided this remedy for one group of local residents. In June, Rush opened the Sue Gin Health Center at Oakley Square, a mixed-income residential complex on Chicago’s West Side.  

“A lot of people don’t like to travel out of their comfort zone,” says Sandra Ramsey, who has lived at the complex for 28 years. “Here you can come right downstairs and get taken care of.”

Previously known as St. Stephen’s Terrace, the Oakley Square complex underwent a $38 million redevelopment in 2014 and provides apartments to more than 500 residents, from small children to senior citizens. The Community Builders, a nonprofit development corporation, manages Oakley Square, and the Rush University College of Nursing’s Office of Faculty Practice runs the clinic there.

Many residents still are uninsured, and those with Medicaid insurance faced capacity issues at local clinics, says Rose Mabwa, senior manager of community life at Oakley Square. Until now.

"We have a lot of young moms. Now, they don't have to go anywhere to line up; they just have to go to the clinic,” Mabwa says. “And their kids can have their physicals done, the shots done, so when they're going back to school, the kids will be ready."

Bring it in house

These outcomes wouldn’t be possible without the work of one Chicago-based global business owner and the way she addressed the question of health care accessibility. Her answer is starting to gain ground.

The late Sue Gin — namesake of the new health center at Oakley Square — was the founder and CEO of Flying Food Group, an airline and retail catering company headquartered in Chicago with locations across the U.S.

Gin noticed that the company’s mostly production-focused work force had trouble finding the time or way to get to health care facilities. A long-time Rush Board of Trustees member, she proposed a partnership. It led to the establishment of the Healthy Living Program and Clinic at Flying Food Group’s O’Hare International Airport production kitchen.

For six years now, Rush nurse practitioners have operated the free clinic, and the results are striking. Independent analyst AON Consulting recently concluded that per-employee health insurance costs are significantly less at the O’Hare location than at Flying Food’s 20 other kitchens, even though the average age of O’Hare employees is higher than the company average.

More importantly, Rush nurse practitioners develop a rapport with employees as they dispense care and wellness advice. It’s an approach many hope will continue at Oakley Square. 

“The Sue Gin Wellness Center at Oakley Square echoes this model,” says David Cotton, CEO of Flying Food Group. “It embodies Sue’s commitment to community service, along with her conviction that underserved populations deserve access to quality health care and wellness programming.”

Gin was also a longtime member of the board of directors of Exelon Corporation and its subsidiary, ComEd. When she passed away in 2014, the Chicago-based energy company decided to make a gift of $250,000 toward community health efforts in her name.

After Chris Crane, president and CEO of Exelon, discussed the company’s intentions with Larry Goodman, CEO of Rush University Medical Center, Rush proposed establishing a clinic at Oakley Square modeled on the one at Flying Food Group. It seemed a natural fit.

“Some of the communities we serve lack access to affordable health care,” says Crane. “There is no better way to honor Sue’s memory, her commitment to the less fortunate and her service to Exelon than to support this center in her honor.”

Training ground

Education is another important focus for the Sue Gin Wellness Center.

It offers not only primary care health services, but wellness initiatives for Oakley Square residents, including nutrition and fitness classes and walking groups. And it serves as a training ground for the next generation of health care workers.

The College of Nursing’s Office of Faculty Practice encourages nursing faculty and students to bring their skills to vulnerable populations. The Sue Gin Wellness Center is just one of 20 partnerships this Rush office has fostered around the Chicago area.

“Our faculty practice partnerships provide unique clinical opportunities for students and faculty,” says Angela Moss, APN-BC, MSN, RN, director of faculty practice. “We also link faculty researchers and patients who otherwise might not have connected. Most importantly, patients say they appreciate a family-like bond with our Rush faculty practice nurses.”

Weekly wellness classes at Oakley Square began in the winter, ahead of the center’s opening, and Sandra Ramsey already has taken part.

“I’ve learned a lot about healthy eating,” she says. “We didn't have that kind of information before, but now we have it not only on nutrition but exercise — things I need that I'm not able to get in a regular health clinic.” 

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