La Grange area partnership ensures health care for needy

Dr. Jennifer Swoyer examines a patient at Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital. | Provided
Dr. Jennifer Swoyer examines a patient at Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital. | Provided

A partnership between Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital, Community Nurse Health Center and area providers is helping more than 2,000 people each year access health care they otherwise would not be able to afford.

Like patient Sharon Banner, who despite her hesitance to seek care from a doctor in five years, did ultimately receive the care she needed. Banner, a resident of Countryside, had put off her health care for financial reasons. Up to that point, she had focused on taking care of her son, and just could not afford to see a doctor.

But after visiting the Community Nurse Health Center, she was immediately sent to La Grange Hospital, where Banner felt they had saved her life. She definitely had needed help.

Founded in 2009, The Community Healthcare Network of the Western Suburbs is a collaboration between the hospital, its Family Medicine Center, Community Nurse, the Community Memorial Foundation, Pillars Community Services and more than 75 local primary and specialty care volunteer physicians.

On average, monthly enrollment in the health care network has been 1,400 people, according to Angela Curran, chief executive officer with Community Nurse. People must meet certain income requirements and not have access to other health care support programs to be eligible. But once they are accepted, they can go to Community Nurse or the La Grange Hospital Family Medicine Center for their primary health care.

Even if they choose to go to Community Nurse, patients can see doctors with the hospital’s residency program, since the program faculty and residents also come to Community Nurse’s Health Center, Curran said.

For patients enrolled in The Community Healthcare Network, a regular office visit costs only a $5 copay, while any lab work that needs to be done is provided free by the hospital. The hospital also provides diagnostic tests for patients, such as X-rays or MRIs.

Every resident in the hospital’s family medicine program, and most of the medical students, work with the Community Nurse program, said Dr. Jennifer Swoyer, associate program director. About 15 residents will rotate through the Community Nurse center to see patients there annually.

Doctors are passionate about service, Swoyer said, and though the Community Nurse formal program has been in place for four years, family residency doctors have been volunteering to work with the organization for many years more than that.

The Community Nurse program works very hard to make sure people seek primary care services, rather than visiting the hospital emergency room. On average, uninsured adults nationwide visit the emergency room 46 times per 100 lives in order to receive medical care. Those participating in the Community Healthcare Network visit the emergency room between 13 and 15 times per 100 lives.

The average cost for a visit at Community Nurse might be $140 or $150, Curran compared, while an emergency room visit costs $1,800.

Last year, The Network estimates it provided $1.5 million in specialty care to program participants, while the hospital provided another $1.3 million in services, Curran said.

With changes on the horizon in health care because of the federal Affordable Care Act, Swoyer believes the residency program’s role with Community Nurse will become even more valuable.

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