By Tommy Navickas
Each day, Bloomington-Normal’s Community Health Care Clinic (CHCC) delivers quality medical care and health education for individuals otherwise unable to afford these services. Their treatment prevents serious and costly health problems.
For the clinic’s patients, the benefits are life-changing; they go on to live healthier, more productive lives.
CHCC also does not receive state or federal money. By utilizing a network of volunteer medical staff, donations, and funding from sources like United Way, it reduces costs for hospitals, physicians, and the entire community. In short, CHCC provides hope, saves lives, and each day, strengthens the community.
Yet, in 2012, Executive Director Angie McLaughlin and Operations Manager Mike Romagnoli recognized that in order to better tell their story, they needed a succinct way to measure just how much money their services saved McLean County.
With an already stretched staff and budget, the resources to develop such a cost-savings measurement just wasn’t there.
They were stuck. And like their patients, they needed a lifeline.
After hearing about the Multicultural Leadership Program’s (MCLP) community partner project model, McLaughlin leaped in with both feet. She submitted a proposal focused on the CHCC’s need, and the clinic was selected to collaborate with one of the MCLP’s small, diverse participant groups, all full-time working professionals.
The gamble paid off.
“If MCLP not been available, this cost-savings tool would have never been created,” McLaughlin said. “Not only did Clinic staff not have the time to commit to this project, staff did not have the technological expertise to even envision the scope of the project and how to pull it off successfully.”
In the MCLP team, the clinic received the support of four talented full-time professionals who quickly became advocates for the CHCC’s need and overall cause. The team, which dubbed itself Team Scrubs, included Sagar Gollapudi, Craig Luchtefeld, Kristen Sand, Heather Stella.
”The entire process was stress-free for CHCC staff; the MCLP team literally took this project and ran with it,” McLaughlin said.
Following extensive interviews with staff and patients, research on the costs of long-term care for a variety of illnesses, and the evaluation of formulas to calculate how much the CHCC was saving hospitals and the community, the team came up with four deliverables:
- Short-term and long-term cost-analysis (CSA) and a potential social return on investment (SROI) framework staff could utilize though a user-friendly spreadsheet
- Training and support on the tool to ensure that the CHCC could easily apply, replicate, and update Team Scrub’s findings on an ongoing basis
- Testimonials from patients and staff that helped to tell the story of the clinic’s impact on individuals in the community
- An overarching document detailing the work and findings of the team.
The clinic presented the CSA and SROI tool and findings immediately, when McLaughlin said they blew back the hair of 250 local leaders and philanthropists at a CHCC luncheon.
“To say they were impressed is an understatement,” she said.
The CHCC has been able to continuously update their data with the tool for use in grant applications and their reports to major funders.
In addition, McLaughlin said the clinic’s leadership members were selected to present the tool and MCLP project at annual conferences of both the Illinois and National Associations of Free and Charitable Clinics.
The MCLP team’s end product was a rousing success, but the bumps along the way—as is the case with all new teams—were many. For starters, not one of the group members possessed a background in healthcare.
“Our learning curve was steep,” Luchtefeld said, “but we learned together and were a much better team because of the dynamics.”
A lack of knowledge on the inner workings of the healthcare industry and scheduling conflicts were not their only barriers. One of their MCLP group members resigned from the program midway through, knocking Team Scrubs down from five to four. In addition, Heather Stella required major surgery that kept her off her feet near the end of the project. She supported her team by pre-recording her final part in the final presentation.
Those early challenges Team Scrubs endured made them self-aware and effective at combining their talents to produce a quality product for the CHCC.
“I’m rather geeky and analytical,” Luchtefeld said.
“Much of my work on the project was done on research and putting together the tool that would quantify CHCC’s value to the community. Kristen Sand and Heather Stella, two extroverts who are extraordinary with people, led the CHCC administrator and patient interviews.”
For Luchtefeld, the collaboration with the CHCC was just as educational as the group’s own development.
“We came to appreciate individuals who are different than ourselves and how they approach their work,” he said. “We also learned how we collaborate best with those who work differently than us.”
Following the completion of their project, Stella joined the CHCC’s board of directors, where she continues to serve in that capacity. Luchtefeld joined several additional Bloomington-Normal non-profit efforts, including the MCLP board of directors and marketing committee.
“From that experience, I learned I could put my talents and my passions into just about any kind of nonprofit organization,” Luchtefeld said.
“My involvement with CHCC’s community project is absolutely one of the best things that I’ve ever done in my life and am eternally grateful that I was able to share that experience with my project team members and the CHCC.”
In 2014, the clinic secured assistance from an MCLP team for a second go-around, this time to conduct a feasibility study on whether dental care was a viable expansion of their patient offerings. The results reinforced the need and sustainability of those services, and are now are a significant part of the CHCC .
McLaughlin said the data the MCLP teams delivered to the CHCC were game-changing. But in a way, the more powerful impact on her and her staff is how these once perfect strangers have advocated for the clinic.
“The MCLP participants’ passion for our patients helped remind all of us that quantitative data and results are important, but the human lives that are impacted by our services are the true results of our investment.”