From its humble beginnings on Cherry Street to becoming the largest federally qualified health center in the state, Cherry Street Health Services is holding on to its roots while changing its name.
The nonprofit officially changed its name to Cherry Health Nov. 10, in recognition of its growth over the years in terms of its increased geographic footprint and variety of comprehensive services.
Since opening the doors of its first clinic in 1988 at 550 Cherry St. SE, the nonprofit health center has become the largest federally qualified health center in the state of Michigan with more than 60 physicians and mid-level providers serving patients in locations across Barry, Kent, Montcalm and Wayne counties.
Cherry Health now provides a variety of integrated health services, such as women’s health, dental, primary care, vision, behavioral health, mental health, pediatrics, internal medicine and psychiatry.
Michael Reagan, chief external affairs officer, said the name change was prompted due to the significant growth in services, new health centers and merging with two organizations in 2011, which resulted in a substantial increase in size.
“We were more than just Cherry Street on Cherry Street. We now have 23 locations spread throughout four counties and now serve about 60,000 patients a year,” said Reagan.
“Really, what has changed is the size and scope of what we do. It is recognition of this growth and to have some continuity of who we have been — because our mission hasn’t changed. What we are now is much more comprehensive than what it has been when it got started.”
As a federally qualified health center, Cherry Health maintains its mission to improve the health and wellness of individuals while focusing on providing quality care to those who are underserved and have limited or no access to health care.
Although the name change is recent, Reagan said the initial feedback has been favorable and encouraging.
Carolyn Avery, president of Cherry Health’s governing board, said the name change more accurately encompasses what the organization offers and how it has grown.
“‘Cherry’ allows us to maintain our history and is recognizable, while ‘Health’ describes what we provide to our patients and the community,” said Avery in a press release. “We are very pleased with it.”
Beginning with a single facility on Cherry Street, the organization has opened an average of two sites every two years for the past 20 years, according to the press release. Some of the recent locations include Wyoming Community Health Center in 2012 and the Barry Community Health Center in 2014.
With the merger in 2011 with Touchstone Innovare and Proaction Behavioral Health Alliance, Cherry Health added behavioral health, mental health and correctional health services to its existing medical care.
“It brought a full range of behavioral health services in terms of serving people with severe and persistent mental illness, mild to moderate mental illness, people with substance use disorders, bringing along an employee assistant program and some correctional health programs,” said Reagan. “When you look at that, both in terms of complexity and range of services, it has been significant.”
Another important addition to the services provided by Cherry Health involves its 2013 designation as the Region 3 Lead Navigator for the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace, according to Reagan. Responsible for roughly a 10-county area, the organization has educated individuals on available options and how to navigate the health exchanges.
“It was our responsibility to work with other local communities and to hire our own staff to be available to help people,” said Reagan. “We actually talked to more than 22,000 people over the last year and a half providing information, and actually helped about 2,000 enroll in the health exchanges and another 2,000 enroll in Healthy Michigan.”
With open enrollment for 2015 health insurance plans beginning Nov. 15 and lasting through February for the Health Insurance Marketplace, Regan said the organization recently held a kick-off event to help people understand the various plans and encourage them to apply for enrollment.
“We have been informed around what the new Marketplace products are going to look like and have been getting the message out to everybody for those who have yet to enroll in the health exchanges who are eligible and for those who are currently enrolled,” said Reagan. “They are encouraged to look again because there may be a plan out there that is more fitting with what they need in terms of both deductibles and co-pays.”
Cherry Health also has partnered with Health Net of West Michigan to provide free educational classes to patients, and has partnered with the West Michigan Interprofessional Education Initiative to welcome several students to its family medicine practice to pilot a team-based model of care.
As the organization moves forward, Regan said Cherry Health is trying to deliberately integrate care to provide complete coverage for patients.
“We are excited about where we are and where we have yet to go,” said Reagan. “We want to become a good health care home providing good quality of care for those who might need primary care or dental care. When people come to us, we can be their health care home, their dental home, and if they need the complement of either vision care or behavioral health care, we can provide it in a seamless way that best maintains their well-being.”