Dr. Eric Bouwens talks with a visitor at Spectrum Health’s Community Medicine Clinic in downtown Grand Rapids. Courtesy Spectrum Health
Spectrum Health opened a new clinic in downtown Grand Rapids this month that will mainly serve lower-income individuals — who have had a hard time finding a doctor to handle their primary medical care, often due to lack of insurance.
Spectrum’s Community Medicine Clinic has begun operating with one full-time physician so far, Dr. Eric Bouwens, a specialist in family medicine.
The low-income clinic is at 75 Sheldon Blvd. SE, off South Division.
Patients “stuck in the system”
“We’re trying to focus on people who, for one reason or another, cannot establish a primary care” relationship with a doctor or clinic, said Bouwens.
Bouwens said the clinic’s patients will primarily be individuals and families with no insurance or very limited insurance or “some other barrier,” such as language, mental health problems or addiction problems.
The patients are “just stuck in the system,” and not seeing a doctor or going to urgent care centers or emergency rooms — “instead of actually getting their own doctor,” said Bouwens, who also speaks Spanish and had a family practice in Kentwood for 20 years.
The clinic will start out seeing 15 to 20 patients a day and plans to eventually be see 100 or more a day.
Services and staffing level
It will offer the traditional range of primary care services, including treatment of illness, pre-natal care, well-child care, physicals and preventive care.
Along with Bouwens, the staff at the start also includes two medical assistants, a financial counselor, two medical office support staff and an office manager shared with the Spectrum Health Medical Group Center for Integrative Medicine, which is located next to the new CMC.
The CIM was established in 2011 for patients with special health needs who frequently used hospital emergency departments in place of regular primary care. Many of them will now be able to receive their primary care through the CMC.
“We also are ‘borrowing’ behavioral social workers, while we wait for a contract from Network 180, to have full-time social work on staff,” added Bouwens.
The new clinic plans to eventually have five care providers, two physicians and three advanced practice providers.
Primary care and overall health
“We know that having a personal doctor positively impacts overall health,” said Dr. Kenneth J. Fawcett, Jr., interim president of Spectrum Health Medical Group. “This clinic will open the door to primary care for patients who have challenges finding that level of care.”
People who have a primary care physician experience a better quality of life, more productive longevity and lower costs — as a result of reduced hospitalization, improved prevention and better coordination of chronic disease care, according to research by the American College of Physicians.
Fawcett said the CMC is designed around the Primary Care Transformational Model, which focuses on access to care and the patient experience.
“This model looks at the needs of the individual patient and is highly coordinated between various providers and settings,” Fawcett said. “Because we value our patients’ time, we work as a team to get answers and care to people efficiently. This helps limit the level of concern that patients often experience while waiting for answers.”
The other major acute care hospitals in Grand Rapids, Metro Health and Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, also have opened new primary care clinics for underserved areas of the region.
Cherry Street Health Services also provides primary care specifically for uninsured individuals in the lower-income bracket.