Funding Cuts Threaten Clinic

June 6, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — By the end of this month, the Creston and Belknap neighborhoods may have one less care center.

Catherine’s Care Center, which has operated from St. Alphonsus Church’s basement since 1996, is losing funding from one of its three partners, Saint Mary’s Health Services. This leaves the Creston Neighborhood Association and the parish to find another sponsor or sponsors to cover the $120,000 void.

Dr. Jack Whalen, the only member of the medical staff that is not employed by Saint Mary’s, said he thinks the neighborhoods would suffer if the center closed.

“It’d suffer from both a medical and a social standpoint,” he said.

Most of the clients of the center, which offers low-cost-to-free medical treatment, are the “working poor,” Whalen said.

Although they make enough that they don’t qualify for Medicaid, Whalen said the typical patients at the clinic do not have health insurance from their jobs. Patients are asked to pay a $10 co-pay, but if they are unable to do so, they will still receive treatment. Whalen said many patients receive treatment and send a check to the clinic later.

“These are people who understand (what) a clinic needs to operate,” he said.

Whalen said although $120,000 of the nearly $350,000 budget is being cut, the staff is trying to find a way to keep the center open.

“Our goal is to remain in operation,” he said. “We feel strongly that they need us here.”

Micki Benz, Saint Mary’s Health Care’s vice president of development, said there are two other clinics within a two-and-a-half-mile radius of the center, so the need is not as great as it once was.

“The patients have other options,” she said.

Whalen disagrees, indicating that patient numbers say differently.

“Our concern is that obviously if that was true, we wouldn’t have had 10,000 visitors last year,” he said.

Benz said when Saint Mary’s entered into the partnership with Catherine’s Care Center it knew the arrangement wouldn’t be forever.

“We never wanted to run or own Catherine’s,” she said.

Now that there are other facilities in the area, Benz said Saint Mary’s has decided there are other neighborhoods with more urgent care needs. Though funding will cease, Benz said Saint Mary’s will make sure patients still receive the care they need if the center does close.

“They’ll be introduced to what their options are so nobody will be without care and there won’t be a break in their health-care services,” she said.

Belknap Commons Clinic,

751 Lafayette Ave., and the Wege Center for Health and Learning, 300 Lafayette Ave., have opened since Catherine’s Care Center has been operating and are available to the people in the area, Benz said.

Whalen said while health care is an important aspect of the clinic, so, too, is the sense of neighborhood and community at Catherine’s. The center offers programs and events like health fairs, diabetes and depression support groups, seasonal walking programs, free mammograms and cardiovascular screenings. Those outreach programs help better the neighborhood and better the community, he said.

“I think people are comfortable coming to an environment like this rather than a fancier health center,” he said. “The patients know the staff and the staff knows the patients.”

Whalen said he is hoping the center will find the sponsors to stay open and continue to serve the community.

“We serve a large population of people who don’t have care elsewhere,” he said.    

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