By Devin Blake
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
The next phase has begun on the construction of a four-story addition to Outreach Community Health Centers – an addition that will expand the clinic’s ability to serve its patients, particularly people experiencing homelessness.
Outreach Community is one of five Federally Qualified Health Centers, or FQHCs, in the county. These are clinics designed and funded to work with people who are uninsured or underinsured.
Ninety five percent of the individuals Outreach Community works with are at or below the federal poverty line.
Although there is no hard-and-fast rule about which patients go to which FQHC, there is a natural flow of patients to the one in their general area, said Angela Sanders, interim CEO and chief clinical officer.
Over 70% of the patients who go to Outreach Community come from 12 primary ZIP codes in the northeastern portion of the city.
Outreach Community is also only one of three FQHCs in the state that gets funding specifically for programs and services for people experiencing homelessness. The original goal of Outreach Community, originally called Healthcare for the Homeless, was to provide services to this population.
When Outreach Community received its designation as an FQHC in 2000, it expanded the type of patients it serves, but “we did not abandon our commitment to serving the homeless,” said James Hill, vice chairman of the board.
Outreach Community serves people experiencing homelessness from 37 different ZIP codes and three different counties in southeastern Wisconsin.
The space in which Outreach Community currently does its homeless services proved insufficient for the need.
“We were growing too big,” Sanders said.
When the 58,000-square foot building is completed this fall, it will more than double Outreach Community’s space, facilitating the hiring of more case management and behavioral health staff members who directly support people who are living on the street or unstably housed.
This population struggles with chronic health conditions such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes as well as mental and substance use disorders, Sanders said.
The new staff will also collaborate more formally with providers on the primary care side of services to better serve the whole individual.
Rather than treating a patient’s hypertension as separate from a chronic anxiety, for example, staff from different disciplines will be able to look together at ways in which these conditions interact, then assist the patient collaboratively.
The difficulties in integrating types and levels of care is, in part, due to the fact that these disciplines are currently spread throughout two different locations – one at 210 W. Capitol Drive and the other at 711 W. Capitol Drive about a 10-minute walk apart.
“A lot of the people that we work with have barriers for access to care, including transportation, child care, a variety of different things,” Sanders said. “We explored a variety of options and we decided … that we would have one location, one-stop shopping for all the individuals that we serve.”
The new building will be located next to the outpatient clinic at 210 W. Capitol Drive.
Outreach Community also is partnering with Ascension Seton Dental Services to locate a permanent dental clinic in the new building.
As an FQHC, Outreach Community is required to have a portion of its board filled by current patients at the clinic. In this way, the realities and the voices of the people who need the services were incorporated into the vision and planning of the building.
There will be “quiet” rooms for staff to decompress as well as outdoor and roof gardens.
The needs of its staff have also influenced the design.
“It’s a rewarding job – what they do. But it’s exhausting,” said Carla Cross, board secretary and treasurer. “We want to make sure that this is a healthy place and a really good environment.”