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New City Health Center: A Second Opinion

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To the editors:

I read your Neighborhood News column with great interest this week [February 8]. The tragic situation at New City Health Center was described in some detail and attributed largely to cutbacks in federal spending, inadequate and late Medicaid reimbursement, and the drying up of the supply of National Health Service Corps physicians.

These problems do indeed make it difficult to run a community health center, but they are problems which are shared by all community health centers. Some of these centers, however, are not in danger of imminent closing, which seems to be the next move for New City Health Center if a creative, nay, miraculous rescue is not designed.

I was employed as a social worker at New City from March of 1989 until October of 1990. I would like to point out that the problems described in the article are only the obvious and universal ones which are common to all such clinics.

It was not mentioned in the article that the board of directors of New City, while changing administrators three times in less than a year, was not involved in the community in any way, had no active or effective community members on the board, and showed a glaring weakness and lack of understanding regarding the importance of community involvement in the operations of such a clinic.

The same board made no effort to understand internal operations of the clinic even though communications to the board were addressed, as a body, by all employees and by the physicians as a group. During the spring of 1990 the doctors wrote to the board requesting a meeting. This request was never responded to. Other efforts by staff to communicate with the board met with no response. It is unconscionable in a neighborhood as needy of good, comprehensive, and humane medical services as Englewood-West Englewood-New City that such a situation did exist and, as far as I know, continues to exist.

Mrs. Heath, the current executive director of the center, speaks the truth when she says, "What's the point of having a medical center without a staff?" She herself has only been at New City since August. She is not from the community, has not worked at a community health center in the past to my knowledge, and as anyone who has worked at New City knows, cannot be receiving constructive assistance from the board of directors.

We who mourn the current state of the health center wonder why the board does not dissolve itself and reconstitute with knowledgeable and caring leaders who have an interest in maintaining services in the community.

It may be the very nature of community health centers to always exist on the edge. Good health coverage for the medically indigent does not appear to be a high priority item with current administrations, either federal, state, or local. The difference between a functioning and a defunct clinic may be the degree of support shown by community members for community institutions. Is this another essential operation which will fall through the cracks at the expense of poor people?

Karen Culberg

Chicago

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