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Near North Health Services: Empowering the Underserved

By Megan Tempest in Food on May 18, 2010 7:00PM

Near North Health Services Corporation (NNHSC) is one of the largest providers of community-based primary health care in the city of Chicago, serving members of our community in dire need. Simply stated, they're helping anyone and everyone. The communities they serve are, according to the organization, “characterized by large concentrations of CHA high rise apartments, abandoned residential buildings, blighted commercial properties, and an utter absence of basic services and health care resources”. It is the mission of NNHSC to provide services focused on the medically underserved using primary care concepts, advocate for safe and healthy communities, and acknowledge the environmental, social and cultural factors that influence one’s health. They stand as a positive force on the health status of the entire community and empower its members to take ownership of their health.

Near North Health Services began in 1966 when a group of community organizations led by activist Alme Moody, including Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Children’s Memorial Hospital, joined forces to address the desperate need for health care for the medically underserved. It wasn’t until 1982, due to the commitment and perseverance of many, Near North Health Services was officially incorporated, and the first health center was constructed at 140 N. Cleveland Ave. Today NNHSC encompasses eight full service health care centers and three supportive sites throughout the Chicago area, is staffed by nearly 240 employees and saw over 45,000 total patients in 2009.

As a federally qualified health center (a type of provider defined by Medicare and Medicaid), which requires their adherence to strict regulations, Near North Health Services provides health care to any individual, regardless of their ability to pay. Fees are determined on a sliding scale based on family size and income. In return, NNHSC receives grants under Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act.Their current patient statistics are:

  • 67% female, 33% male
  • 70% African American, 21% Hispanic, 5% Caucasian, 1% Asian
  • Payor sources: 50% uninsured, 44% Medicaid, 6% Medicare
  • Income level: 95% live below 200% of the federal poverty level

Near North’s core services include Internal Medicine, Pediatrics and Women’s Health. They provide specialty services in the areas of Podiatry, Ophthalmology, and Dentistry. Additionally, NNHSC provides comprehensive services in social service, substance abuse, family support services, early intervention, youth programs, domestic violence, and case management. Among the multiple nutrition programs offered, Operation Frontline (a partnership with Share Our Strength) is a national nutrition education program focused on hunger and food security. According to Allison Johnson, Registered Dietitian and Director of Nutrition Services, Near North is currently the only Operation Frontline partner in the state of Illinois. The program draws upon expertise from local chef’s, nutritionists, and financial planners to teach students healthy nutrition, basic cooking skills, sanitary food preparation, and food budgeting. As an anti-hunger program, NNHSC’s Operation Frontline makes strong efforts to go where the children are, working with schools, park districts, and after school programs, and recently opened their first school-based site in 2009, serving 400 students at Reavis Elementary on Chicago’s south side.

Dale M. Cain, Coordinator of Operation Frontline at NNHSC’s Komed Holman Health Center, describes their 6-week training program as an intensive hands-on learning experience. Every student receives a cutting board and knife and shopping skills are taught in a simulated grocery store setting. In hopes of dispelling the idea that eating well is expensive, students are taught how to stretch their dollar and obtain practical skills such as converting ounces to pounds, buying seasonal produce to get the best value, doing comparison shopping, and tips for spotting deceptive pricing. Students are encouraged to utilize farmer’s markets and provided the information to locate them in the community. Eventually students are asked to put their newly-acquired skills to the test in the “$10 Challenge”, in which they must demonstrate how to feed a family of four on ten dollars. Cain asserts this is very achievable goal and generally 70% of students pass the test. She enforces strict grading criteria such that any student who exceeds the $10 limit by even one cent will not pass. Dale explains, “In reality, if you only had $10, what would you do? If you go to a bank and you have $10 in your checking account, but you write a check for $10.01, then you get penalized with a service fee.” Cain comtinues, “I’m firm on this because I know they can do it, it’s just a matter of implementing the skills and tools they have learned in the class.”

For more information, visit Near North Health Services online.