When Community Health Centers began 50 years ago, the mission was not only to prevent illness with affordable primary care, but also address the causes. Confronting the social determinants of health, meaning factors such as nutrition, homelessness and poverty, is a mission carried out by all health centers even today. That is what brought us to the south side of Chicago, where TCA Health, Inc. saw a need in the community, and sought to fill it.
Since diet is so often the culprit of ailments such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, TCA Health decided to take action by opening the Peter’s Rock Food Pantry just a few blocks from its main clinic site.
“In order to truly build healthy communities, it is critical we address disparities beyond traditional healthcare. The south side of Chicago is a food desert where healthy choices are extremely limited and in most cases non-existent,” said Mariann Chisum-McGill, Director of Programs. “Regular check-ups and health screenings are excellent preventive measures, however, they are not enough if people are not eating well. Not only do we educate our constituents on proper nutrition, we opened the food pantry in order to make healthy options more accessible and affordable.”
TCA Health serves 8,500 patients and offers a range of affordable primary care services, such as dental, pediatrics, OB-GYN, and even employment counseling. But a growing need among patients stretches beyond the walls of the health center. Stores that sell healthy food are scarce, and for many residents who do not have access to a car, it means trekking several miles to the nearest affordable grocery store for fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy staples. On the other hand, establishments that sell processed junk food are plentiful.
TCA Health responded to this barrier by forming the Health & Wellness Collaborative (HWC), an alliance of local community organizations, social service agencies, concerned residents, schools, churches and other stakeholders. The HWC partnered with Peter’s Rock Church of God in Christ to open the food panty on January 30, 2015. Not just any food pantry, though. The Peter’s Rock Food Pantry (located inside the church) offers comprehensive nutrition and cooking workshops along with free canned goods, fresh produce and meat. The pantry serves up to 100 families every Friday from 10 to noon.
TCA Health’s successful efforts to venture beyond the reach of conventional medicine to target specific community needs is part of a legacy that has been in existence for five decades, thanks in part to public support. Now that support is being imperiled because of the health center funding cliff, which could slash federal funding by up to 70 percent. If Congress does not act, every health center will be affected. For TCA Health it means over 1,000 patients could experience reduced access to care.
“The health center funding cliff would deliver a crushing blow to what we are accomplishing on the south side,” said Veronica E. Clarke, CEO. “TCA Health’s mission is not only dedicated to quality healthcare, we are empowering individuals by improving their quality of life. We are creating solutions locally, but we need federal investment to continue our work.”