Free clinic shares space with Frances Nelson

Free clinic shares space with Frances Nelson

CHAMPAIGN — Local free clinic Avicenna Community Health Center is now sharing space with Frances Nelson Health Center at 819 Bloomington Road, C.

Avicenna is subletting five exam rooms at Frances Nelson to see its patients on Sunday afternoons, but the two health centers remain separate operations, officials of both said.

Avicenna plans to expand its hours at its new location to also see patients on Thursday evenings, starting early next year, its operations director Ben Mueller said.

Avicenna, which primarily sees uninsured adults, had been subletting space from the Champaign County Christian Health Center at 507 S. Second St., C.

Sharing space with Frances Nelson Health Center, a federally qualified health center that also serves low-income patients, gives Avicenna more exam rooms to use and increased visibility, Mueller said.

Having both health centers under one roof should also benefit the patients of both organizations, since it will give them two options for care, says Nancy Greenwalt, executive director of Frances Nelson's parent organization, Promise Healthcare.

Avicenna doesn't charge for office visits, while Frances Nelson charges fees for its services, Greenwalt said.

For those patients coming to Frances Nelson who don't qualify for the state Medicaid program but are uninsured, "we can say this (Avicenna) option is available," she said.

"I think it can benefit both organizations," Greenwalt said of the new arrangement.

Mueller said Avicenna offers primary care and specialties through volunteer physicians and takes a holistic approach to health care.

"We work out plans with our patients around exercise and diet," he said.

Avicenna sees only adult patients, since uninsured children have health coverage options through the state All Kids program, Mueller said.

It also provides outreach to the migrant population, the homeless, immigrants and uninsured international student families, all populations that have needed access to a free clinic and may well continue to need it even with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, he said.

In addition to free doctor care, Mueller said, Avicenna can provide the cost of lab work and free and discounted medicines for patients in need. Last year, it provided 1,500 patient visits and is still accepting new patients, he said.

Avicenna first started seeing patients in 2010. It was founded by members of the local Muslim-American community, but is an interfaith clinic, Mueller said.

"We have physicians of all backgrounds and we serve people of all backgrounds," he said.

Irfan Ahmad, a co-founder of Avicenna and its board president, remains a "guiding light" behind the organization, Mueller said.

Ahmad, who is the executive director of the University of Illinois Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, recalls seeing patient suffering in the community and the discussions and planning to bring together a team of physicians to open a health center to help. The goal from the start was to give Avicenna a focus beyond curative medicine — which is why prevention was integrated into patient care, he said.

Avicenna's four main focuses are diabetes, obesity, hypertension and primary care, he said.

Ahmad says he sees Avicenna accomplishing what it set out to achieve, but, he added, "it is heart-wrenching to see how much more we could do if we had resources."

In addition to its volunteer services, Ahmad said, Avicenna, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, operates on the financial contributions it receives from the community.

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