Higher demand pushes Cherry Street to expand

April 2, 2012
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Cherry Street Health Services is putting the finishing touches on its expansion of the Westside Health Center. The nonprofit provider feels the project was a must-do effort that will help fill a demand for services that has dramatically developed in that sector of Grand Rapids and throughout the city.

Some might think that the rising need for Cherry Street’s medical services and its increasing number of clients began in 2008, the year the financial services market led the nation into the Great Recession. But Cherry Street Health Services CEO Chris Shea said the distressing trend began years earlier.

“I think we’ve seen the need for a very long time. We have noted that on the west side, as well as in other parts of the city, there has been a huge increase in the number of people who are now below 200 percent of the poverty level, which is our primary targeted population. And that growth certainly came about before 2008 — I would say starting in 2000 or so; 2002, at least — but certainly it got worse by 2008,” he said.

Shea’s recalled timeline is spot on. In 2010, the Brookings Institution released a report on the poverty rates in the nation’s 95 largest cities. The firm measured the growth of poverty from 2000 to 2008 and found that the largest percentage increase of that rate occurred in Grand Rapids, where poverty rose by 8.9 percent over those years and left 24.7 percent of the city residents in that income-deprived class.

“The difficulty we’ve had in assessing the need, though, has been the fact that we’ve been unable to accommodate many of the patients who come to us for care. So we never really know exactly how long the line is — if we were able to serve everyone,” said Shea.

The rise in clients and demand for services hasn’t stopped, either. Glenda Walker, who manages the Westside Health Center, has seen it continue.

“From what I’ve seen since I’ve been here, a lot of patients had insurance but were downsized and lost their insurance. I can definitely see that playing a part into the increased access,” said Walker, who joined Cherry Street last October.

The newly expanded Westside Health Center marks the 10th clinic Cherry Street has established in the city’s high schools and neighborhoods. “I think with this current expansion, we should be able to be reasonably close to taking care of the needs that the people present to us on the west side,” said Shea.

Walker said all that’s left of the construction project is to finish the six first-floor examination rooms in the Women’s Health Wing. When that work is done, the center will go from 19 exam rooms to 33.

The project added a second floor to the building at 653 Stocking Ave. NW, which had been the location of a Kent County Health Clinic, and then wrapped around the structure to the Cherry Street Health Services Clinic at the other end of the block at 669 Stocking Ave. NW.

The project also filled the gap between the two buildings, resulting in two floors being built on the back portion of what was an empty and largely unusable lot. So the work made efficient use of available space on a very tight urban footprint.

The project was managed by McGraw Construction and designed by Dan Iacovoni of Cornerstone Architects.

The site the county occupied has become the pediatric wing of the health center and has its own entrance at 653 Stocking. In addition to exam rooms, the wing has a reception and admissions desk, which also welcomes clients headed to the women’s section, and a play area for the kids waiting to be seen. The new space and its configuration have reduced the time these clients have to wait, while other patients use the entrance at 669 Stocking.

“From a patient-care perspective, it’s a huge improvement. When you talk about patient flow and bottlenecks, you’ve got multiple services, and everyone was checking in at the same registration desk. And there were many times before this expansion there would be lines and delays in patients accessing our providers,” said Walker. “So it’s a huge improvement to our patient care.”

Most of the center’s administrative offices and the building’s conference and training rooms have moved to the new second floor, so the first floor is solely dedicated to patient care.

“The offices that were previously occupied by administrative individuals on the first floor have been made into rooms for patient care. We’ve got a certified dietician who counsels with our patients. We have counselors on staff here and a pediatric social worker on staff here. So we’ve turned those offices into patient care,” said Walker.

There hasn’t been a single outstanding need that accounts for the growth in the medical services provided by Westside Health Center; Walker said the demand has increased across the board. She said existing clients keep coming back for follow-up services, and new patients consistently come to the center seeking adult and pediatric care.

“The demand is definitely here. We have patients contacting us and outreaching to utilize our services daily. So the need is definitely here,” said Walker. “So to be able to facilitate and expand, we’ve been able to meet some of that demand, and that was a big part of the decision to put the resources here on the west side.”

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