CHAMPAIGN – About two-thirds of the cost of relocating and expanding Frances Nelson Health Center is now covered.
But there's a big hole remaining in this $3 million project: Another $1 million needs to be raised from the local community if this small Champaign clinic is going to be able to help more needy patients, say those involved in the fundraising.
Local clinics and hospitals are already contributing to the cost of moving Frances Nelson Health Center, from its current building on Carver Drive to more than twice the space in the old Leath Furniture building at the corner of Prospect Avenue and Bloomington Road.
"And now it's time to have the rest of the community see what we're doing," said Tammy Lemke, chief executive of United Way of Champaign County.
Lemke said the fund drive will kick into high gear next week with a public awareness campaign, direct mail appeals and representatives calling on businesses.
Larger contributors are being offered a chance to name various rooms in the new facility, she said.
A contractor bid is expected to be awarded by early next week, and the health center is on target to move into the larger building by Nov. 1, according to Barbara Dunn, executive director of the Community Health Improvement Center, the Champaign health center's parent organization in Decatur.
Plans to move Frances Nelson have been in the works since late 2004, but Lemke said an all-out appeal for donations has been waiting on the bid award.
Carle Foundation Hospital gave the project one of its first big pushes by purchasing the Leath building and taking on the structural repairs it needed – including asbestos removal, gutting the interior and replacing the air conditioning – at a cost of $1.3 million. The hospital will be leasing space in the front end of the building to Frances Nelson for a dollar a year for the first three years.
Among the organizations that have pledged another $700,000 toward the cost have been Carle hospital and clinic, Christie Clinic, Provena Covenant Medical Center, the cities of Champaign and Urbana, the Frances Nelson Foundation and the Champaign Rotary Club.
Carle Clinic, Christie Clinic and Covenant will also be collectively covering $90,000 a year of Frances Nelson's operating costs for the first three years. The hope is that Frances Nelson will be able to stand on its own financially after three years, Dunn and Lemke said.
Last month, Lemke thought the project would have to be scaled back a bit from original plans due to higher construction costs resulting from hurricane damage in the South. However, the bids came in lower than expected, she said Tuesday.
That means the full 13,100 square feet in the original plans can be built out, Lemke said.
"The full project can proceed as planned," she added.
Finish work on the interior is now set to begin around May 22, Lemke said.
Meanwhile, the demand on Frances Nelson Health Center continues to grow.
It is adding about 200 new patients a month through emergency room referrals and could be seeing more if the capacity were there, said the health center's site director, Andrea Goldberg.
That growth is also coming without keeping a waiting list, a practice the health center discontinued some time ago because the wait time for patients on that list was so long.
"We thought doing a waiting list was cruel," Dunn said.
With its larger space, Frances Nelson will be initially adding one doctor or midlevel provider, such as a nurse practitioner or physician's assistant, plus new support staff, Goldberg said.
Plans also call for adding another doctor or midlevel provider as needed, with the additional help allowing the health center to expand its annual number of patient visits provided from 19,000 to 30,000.