When Joe Ruth heard about a South Bend hospital operating a primary-care clinic inside a homeless center, the chief operating officer of four-hospital Lansing, Mich.-based Sparrow Health System and several colleagues hopped on an Indiana-bound bus to investigate.
The Central Neighborhood Health Center, run by the Beacon Medical Group unit of the two-hospital Beacon Health System, is housed in a three-story brick building not far from the hulking ruins of a former Studebaker auto plant. The Center for the Homeless, run for 26 years by a local not-for-profit, is in the same building.
“We walked through this clinic and we were shamed into doing something,” Ruth said. When they saw the difference the clinic was making in these people's lives, it kick-started “a communitywide effort to shine a light on our most vulnerable.”
It took a while, but community leaders eventually came together to tackle the problem. “We held some fundraisers. We got some federal money. And then we built this beautiful clinic,” he said. It opened in March 2014, four years after the initial bus trip.
The 6,500-square-foot Sparrow Medical Group-Volunteers of America Clinic was built in a century-old warehouse in downtown Lansing where Volunteers of America-Michigan runs a homeless shelter and support center. The project's cost was about $800,000. A lot of the architectural and excavation work was provided free or at cost. Sparrow allocated more than $300,000 to cover startup costs as part of its community benefit contribution to justify its tax-exempt status, Ruth said.
During its first year, the Lansing clinic had 4,200 patient visits, while the shelter housed nearly 1,700 people. “We deal with all family practice issues,” said
Dr. Lynn Nevin, whom Sparrow recruited to work full time at the clinic. “High blood pressure, tobacco cessation, substance abuse problems, diabetic foot care, EKGs, pulmonary functions, everything.”