Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A row of trucks for construction workers are parked in a line in front of the new Heart City Health Center site at the Woodland Crossing Mall on the south side of Elkhart Wednesday, April 9, 2014. The center will be the second location for the clinic, which serves low-income and uninsured residents. (Jennifer Shephard / The Elkhart Truth)
Obamacare helps Heart City Health expand, and that's good for the community

Posted on April 13, 2014 at 10:38 a.m.

Obamacare. As a nation, it divides us.

Still, no matter your views on the Affordable Care Act, it’s paying for a new clinic to expand health care access to about 3,500 people in Elkhart — and that’s a worthy investment.

Heart City Health Center received a $900,000 grant in November from the ACA, allowing the clinic to open a new site at Woodland Crossing.

Health City, a nonprofit agency serving the poor and uninsured, already provides primary health and dental care to 11,000 people — everything from prenatal care to immunizations, pediatric care, cancer screenings, lab work and X-rays, diabetes screening and treatment, and geriatric care. But demand became so great that the agency stopped accepting new patients about a year ago.

At least for a couple more months.

Announced in November by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the ACA grant allowed Heart City to begin work on a new clinic at Woodland Crossing, a struggling shopping center off Hively Avenue.

Figures show the neighborhood, between Benham Avenue and Prairie Street, is the poorest in the city. It’s also home to Elkhart’s highest concentration of people without health coverage, said Heart City CEO Vernita Todd.

“What better place to put a health center than in a community that really needs it?” Todd asked an Elkhart Truth reporter.

When it opens in early June, the two doctors, nurse practitioner and 17 support staff at SCENIC Health — South Central Elkhart Northern Indiana Clinic — will be able to provide care to another 3,500 people.

That does not ensure primary health care for everyone in Elkhart County. Todd, citing 2013 U.S. Census figures, puts the number of those without access at about 28,000.

But if the new clinic can help 12.5 percent of those people find primary care, that begins to change Elkhart and the surrounding community for the better.

With regular access to a doctor, children grow up healthier. They miss fewer days of class and learn more during the school year. That, in turn, better prepares them for college and the workplace.

Businesses benefit when employees stay healthy, reducing costly absences and turnover. And perhaps most importantly, the city grows stronger and more vibrant when everyone participates in culture, politics and the economy.

You can’t fully become part of a community if you’re sick, homebound and unemployed.

Heart City is putting up $475,000 of its own money to build the new clinic. In 2015, the federal grant provides roughly $650,000 a year for operations — enough to cover about 25 percent of annual costs.

The community needs to commit itself to helping Heart City operate its second clinic. Why?

To help our children in school, certainly. To enhance the local economy, without question. And perhaps to reduce crime, as well. After all, it stands to reason that as the local standard of living begins to improve, our streets will become safer.

Above all else, however, we should help Heart City because it is acting on our behalf — it is reaching out to the poorest, the sickest and the neediest among us.

Obamacare continues to divide us as a nation. But in Elkhart, the ACA helped Heart City Health Center expand its reach.

And that piece of the Affordable Care Act was a good investment.