Free clinic assists uninsured

By Jessica Wildt

Champaign County Christian Health Center, a free clinic at 1512 W. Anthony Dr. in Champaign, has provided Champaign County residents with free health care since September 2004 to meet the growing medical need for the uninsured.

Frances Nelson Health Center, the only other public clinic at 1306 Carver Drive, Champaign, has a waiting list that has grown to 1,800 people within the last year, and it takes approximately eight months until people are able to see a doctor. Provena no longer accepted Medicaid from clients, which contributed to the influx of people attending Francis Nelson.

“We found that there’s definitely a need (for more medical care),” said Nita Skeels, the Champaign County Christian health Center services coordinator. “People can’t possibly wait that long.”

Jeff Trask, the clinic’s founder and administrator, said the role the clinic plays in the community is important, and that its success is based on two sources – God and different organizations, individuals and agencies in the community.

The clinic, open Tuesdays from 5:30p.m. until 9:30 p.m., has a staff that includes more than 120 volunteers who give their time to provide care to 250 patients.

“That’s pretty significant since we’re only open one night a week,” said Trask, an associate pastor of New Covenant Fellowship, 124 W. White St.

Of these volunteers, all of whom work on a rotational basis, 30 are qualified health practitioners – including doctors, physician’s assistants, nurses and medical students from the University. Most of the health practitioners are in Urbana, including Carle Clinic, Carle Foundation Hospital, Provena Covenant Medical Center and Kirby Hospital in Monticello, Ill.

The idea of creating a free clinic began after Trask met Skeels. The two initially met at New Covenant Fellowship and found they had a common interest in starting a free healthcare facility for Champaign-Urbana residents.

Skeels and Trask’s vision for a free healthcare facility became a reality when they met Wayne Mathews, a physician’s assistant and director of the emergency department at Kirby Hospital.

“We began to talk, and the idea gathered momentum and also gathered some other interested people,” Mathews said.

By September 2004, the clinic had an overwhelming response from volunteers all over the county. The health center also received funding from Christian Community Health Fellowship, an intermediary for the government that distributes faith-based initiative money. Salt and Light ministries, a food and clothing bank that serves the county, provide the actual building the clinic uses.

Other donations include medicine given by Carle. Provena sells prescription drugs at cost to the patient.

On average, Trask said an emergency room visit costs a patient $525. He said Carle and Provena spend $5 million a year on charitable care.

“Those expenses have to go somewhere, so a lot of times we’ll see it in higher healthcare premiums and things of that nature,” he said. “So in reality people are already paying for people who can’t pay.”

By providing free doctor visits, he feels that this will put money back into the healthcare system. Trask and Mathews both feel that the number of uninsured people will only increase.

“People are going to see that we have to take the initiative in terms of volunteering and giving and helping as a community to address a problem instead of waiting for the government to address it,” Matthews said.

In addition to providing volunteers and medicine, Carle allows the health center to use their mobile clinics to service people in different locations.

Every fourth Thursday, the mobile clinic is at Urbana Assembly of God Church. In April, the mobile clinic will be in Rantoul and will be at Salem Baptist Church in June.