Frances Nelson to move to local control

Frances Nelson to move to local control

CHAMPAIGN — Frances Nelson Health Center, a Champaign clinic under the control of a Decatur organization for the past 11 years, could soon be back in local hands.

A new not-for-profit corporation was established last month to take over the clinic, and a local board was established to see the transition through, with a goal of detaching the Champaign clinic from the Community Health Improvement Center of Decatur by June 1, said Lyn Jones, president of the United Way of Champaign County.

The Community Health Improvement Center’s board and the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, both will have to give final approval to the move,  Jones said.

The new corporation will have to pay the Decatur organization for the medical equipment, furnishings and patient list at Frances Nelson, and that amount has yet to be determined, Jones said.

The transition board is also looking at expansion plans to provide more primary and preventive health care to serve all of Champaign County and planning to change the name of the clinic.

A federally qualified health center designated to provide care for the needy and medically under-served, Frances Nelson Health Center got its start as a tiny clinic on Carver Drive in Champaign and moved in 2006 to its larger and more modern facility through a community fund-raising effort led by the local United Way.

Another community collaboration added a dental clinic at Frances Nelson last fall to provide dentistry to people who can't afford it.

But despite the expansion of the medical clinic, there remains a vast need for more primary care and preventive health services in the local community, says Claudia Lennhoff, executive director of Champaign County Healthcare Consumers and a member of the transition board.

Local medical providers are doing what they can, she said, but there just aren't enough primary care providers to go around.

Local governance will provide the opportunity for the growth in service that's needed, she said.

Jones said many federally-qualified health centers in the U.S. have closed, and local control will also help shelter Frances Nelson in the years ahead.

"If we have a local board, we're in a better position to bring resources to the table," she said.

The board is making plans to expand Frances Nelson to serve the broader community beyond Champaign, including possible satellite sites to bring services closer to patients.

Under local control, Frances Nelson can collaborate better with local medical providers and meet the needs of more Medicaid patients, the ranks of whom are expected to grow under the Affordable Care Act within two years, Jones said.

The goal will also be to create a community clinic that anyone will want to come to, not just the under-served, Lennhoff said.

"We want to created a community where there's not a two-tiered health system," she said.

The clinic will have a new name under the new local establishment, in part to reflect the clinic's mission to serve all of Champaign County and not just Champaign, but plans are being made to honor the Frances Nelson name and legacy, said fellow board member Mark Ballard.

See Wednesday's News-Gazette for more.