By Natasha Robinson, MPCA Communications Specialist
Nine Michigan Primary Care Association staff, including me, took some time yesterday (Wednesday) to visit Cherry Street Health Services’ Heart of the City Health Center in Grand Rapids. Of course, the 45 minute ride is a way to bond with co-workers casually while carpooling. In one car we talked about relationships with others and the variety of Health Center services offered across the state. In another car, I heard they discussed health policy. As we met up at the Health Center, it was very easy to notice clear signage in English and Spanish, lots of natural light, and monitors on the walls showing important messages related to health and Cherry Street services.
There was a staffed reception area right in the center, and the first floor sprawled out to different hubs – Pediatrics, Dental, Pharmacy, Vision, Adult Medicine, and Counseling – with ample waiting room space, clean restrooms, and a reasonably priced vending machine with healthy options. The staff was courteous and helpful, directing us to the second floor to meet with Sharon Barton, Director of Development, and Mike Reagan, Chief External Relations Officer, for our tour.
The second floor was less busy – mostly because the hubs are administrative offices, the Durham Clinic, and behavioral health. But there was tons of natural sunlight and a beautiful sprawl of plants overlooking the central reception area. I was already impressed with this newer building and the customer service provided. I was familiar with Cherry Street Health Services as an organization mostly because of its AmeriCorps program. But I was eager to learn more.
Mike and Sharon took us through a PowerPoint presentation that focused a lot on how they manage the care of patients with chronic illness. They highlighted the innovative Durham Clinic – still a work in progress, but showing promising results for improving outcomes – among all of the other services offered at their various sites. The Durham Clinic, which opened less than two years ago, integrates primary health care and behavioral health services by connecting all types of providers and linking them to patients with chronic conditions. The clinic is sort of the shining star of patient-centered care because it’s designed to help them make improvements to their lives the best way they can. The providers, a crew of internists, licensed social workers, case managers, and more, meet daily to review cases and discuss what messages to reiterate to their shared patient. Their goal is to help equip the patient with the tools they need to help manage their own health.
There are more than two dozen Cherry Street sites located throughout the state but centered in and around the Grand Rapids area. The Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) has grown since it merged with Touchstone innovare and Proaction Behavioral Health Alliance in October 2011 and currently serves about 60,000 patients.
The staff we met is committed to great outcomes for their patients and happy with the work they do, and where they do it. Some of them are even patients. It’s great to know that the on-site pharmacist can work personally with providers and patients to give them an optimal medication regiment. The pharmacist also takes the time to be hands-on with pharmacists in training, who one day may serve in FQHCs. There are nurses whose positions are dedicated to serving children with special needs who are patients at the clinic.
MPCA staff that visited Cherry Street has duties that range from accounting to technical support to access technical assistance to clinical technical assistance. Our level of FQHC background knowledge varied from little to expert. And many of us walked away thinking the people, the place, and the services offered were high quality and sort of even better than what we’ve seen at our private physician offices.
My work in outreach and enrollment and in communications with MPCA has shown me that Health Centers across the state are all working hard to provide the best they have for their communities. I’m glad that places like Cherry Street Health Services exist and continue to grow and innovate in a way that encourages the best for its patients, its staff, and its community. We at MPCA are also thankful that they opened their doors to this experience to show us the work that’s been done, and to share the work that’s in progress. Kudos to CEO Chris Shea and his team – from leadership, to providers and clinical staff, to maintenance and building supports – for creating and nurturing a welcoming environment for patient-centered care