JOLIET – Despite the advent of the Affordable Health Care Act, Shawn West doesn’t see the need for the services of the Will-Grundy Medical Clinic going away anytime soon.
“People are falling between the cracks,” said West, who in December became the new executive director of the clinic, which provides free medical and dental care to adults in Will and Grundy counties who have no health insurance or medical care entitlements and meet prescribed income guidelines.
“There are lots of stories where household incomes, because of multiple people in the household, exceed the limit for the expanded Medicaid coverage and they have to go to the health insurance marketplace, and find it just unaffordable,” she said.
West replaces J.D. Ross, who was the clinic’s executive director for almost seven years. A Plainfield resident, West, 38, previously was director of human capital for Perspectives Charter School in Chicago. Before that, she was the senior director of human resources at the Chicago-based nonprofit organization Bethel New Life.
“This is my dream job,” West said. “I’ve dedicated my life to working at not-for-profits, working in organizations that are trying to make the world a better place.”
Beth Hughes, chair of the clinic’s board of directors and regional president and CEO of Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, believes that West is the right person for the job.
“She has high energy and is mission focused,” Hughes said. “I think she will do a great job for the community.”
Will-Grundy Medical Clinic was founded in 1988 and is the only free clinic in the two-county area for those who have no insurance and limited financial resources. Individuals who want to become patients must meet eligibility requirements and must apply for patient status.
Last year, the clinic served about 2,000 people, and West said she doesn’t see that number decreasing that much because of the Affordable Health Care Act. She said that political wonks “have projected that the Affordable Health Care Act will not make a significant impact in the number of uninsured until the year 2020.”
“Even with the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act, you still have so many people with so much need,” West said. “Here at Will-Grundy Medical Clinic, we are trying to determine what is our path, and how we will continue to provide coverage.”
The clinic is funded by the United Ways of Will and Grundy counties, its four partner hospitals – Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center, Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, Morris Hospital and Healthcare Centers and Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital – along with local businesses and individuals. Once a month, Will-Grundy Medical Clinic runs a clinic at Morris Hospital for those in need.
It depends on volunteers for its continued operation. During the clinic’s past fiscal year, 300 volunteer dental and medical professionals and 100 clerical and support volunteers donated their time.
Their help is desperately needed for the services the clinic provides.
“These patients typically are sicker, and not only are they sicker, but they are also poor consumers of health care,” West said. “The working poor, that’s a stressful situation in and of itself. Sometimes, things like the pain in your back or the pain in your side, you forget about that, you put that on a shelf, because right now, you have to figure out how to feed your kids and keep the lights on.”
Along with getting patients the help they need, the clinic also offers health education. It is West’s hope that through education, they will become their own health care advocates.
“I would love to get our patients to the point where they are healthier and don’t have to consume a lot of medical services,” West said. “An empowered patient is a healthier patient.”