The partnership between Henry Ford Allegiance Health and the Center for Family Health has traveled a long, winding – and mutually satisfying – road.
During their almost 25-year relationship, each has been the other’s landlord, one helped create the other, and today the two health-care entities are partners in providing current – and future – access to care for the area’s most vulnerable citizens.
More than 25 years ago, Henry Ford Allegiance – then known as Foote Hospital – was on board when the concept of starting a prenatal center for women without insurance emerged from the Infant Mortality Task Force. The task force was researching possible solutions to the county’s alarmingly high infant-mortality rates.
One pregnant woman a day was being transferred from Foote’s Emergency Room to the University of Michigan because she hadn’t had prenatal care and the baby was in distress, said Georgia Fotjasek, Henry Ford Allegiance president & CEO.
“It was just stunning,” she said. “It rivaled a third-world situation.”
The Center for Healthy Beginnings – a prenatal clinic, which was the roots of today’s Center for Family Health – opened in 1991 at a building on W. High Street.
“Henry Ford Allegiance was committed to making the prenatal clinic successful,” said Molly Kaser, Center president & CEO.
Once Community Action Agency stepped up to sponsor the clinic, Henry Ford Allegiance helped with the recruitment of the Center’s first obstetrician, paid for malpractice insurance, and voted to allow certified nurse midwives to have privileges at the hospital, Kaser said.
A few years after the prenatal clinic was up and running, family medicine services were added; not long after that the Center added pediatric and adult medicine services.
By 1995, the Center incorporated and changed its name to the Center for Family Health. Henry Ford Allegiance purchased the building at 817 W. High St. and rented it to the Center. (Today, Henry Ford Allegiance rents space at 505 N. Jackson St. for a diagnostic center, which provides easy access for Center patients.)
In between the Center’s creation and the construction of the new building, Henry Ford Allegiance and the Center’s relationship went through many iterations.
Henry Ford Allegiance and Center leaders agree: The partnership works because all acknowledge its benefit to the community, providing more access to care. The two are not in competition; their goal is to complement each other and rely on each’s strengths.
In fact, the relationship has been used as a model for other federally qualified health centers, Kaser said. She and others often are invited to speak about how it works.
“The whole story speaks of community and leadership,” Fotjasek said.
“Another major component is trust,” Kaser said. “Governance of both organizations have been stewards of looking at what’s best for the community – looking outside their own walls.”
Perhaps the crown jewel in the lasting partnership between Henry Ford Allegiance and the Center is the Graduate Medical Education Program. In addition to a traditional residency program in which doctors move around the specialties, the program – run by Henry Ford Allegiance – relies on the Center to provide family-medicine doctors with patients to see for the three years of a continuity clinic.
The doctors spend up to four and a half days a week, at the Center seeing patients.
“The Center was the logical choice for the resident continuity clinic,” said Pam Royston, administrative director/designated institutional official, Graduate Medical Education at Henry Ford Allegiance. “They are able to assist the Center with a volume of patients in a very cost-effective manner.”
It is ideal for the residents and the patients, she said.
The residents get to practice important skills, such as communication and empathy.
“The patients are very welcoming,” Royston said. “Residents take a little more time with them.”
The underlying goal of the program, in its second year, is to recruit some of its graduates to Jackson. With a national shortage of primary-care physicians, both Henry Ford Allegiance and the Center can benefit from an in-house pipeline of family doctors.
“No one had a vision of what we would have today,” Fotjasek said, recalling the formation of the prenatal clinic. “We can take what happened here to attack other intractable problems in the community."
Henry Ford Allegiance Health and the Center for Family Health have worked together in unique ways to increase access to care. For example,