Twenty-five years ago, four mothers with kids in Head Start realized how difficult it was get quality, accessible healthcare for their own children.
How difficult it must be, then, for parents in under-served communities, with access to far fewer resources.
Thanks to their initial efforts, the Children’s Check-Up Center opened its doors in Hall Manor in 1994. In addition to its convenient location, the facility aimed to provide quality care to many uninsured families in need.
Now named the Community Check-Up Center of South Harrisburg (CCUC), the facility remains in that same single unit of Hall Manor, offering free, complete women’s and children’s health care and family planning under one roof.
With a staff of about a dozen full- and part-time medical and support personnel, CCUC provides 4,000 pediatric, women’s healthcare and family planning visits per year.
The community-based nonprofit will celebrate its 25th anniversary in September with a celebration and fundraiser, seeking greater visibility for their important mission and asking the larger Harrisburg community for its support.
Holly Leggett, vice president of CCUC’s board of directors, is helping to lead that charge.
“We never have time to promote what we do,” she said. “We just have time to do what we do. When you go up to Hall Manor, there aren’t too many bright spots. But at least there’s this little place that’s there to serve the community.”
Attorney Peter Zurflieh, now with the Community Justice Project, handled the center’s incorporation and legal start-up. He then remained involved and served as board chair for 10 years.
“We had a great relationship with the neighborhood from day one and knew [CCUC] was meeting a need that wasn’t getting met elsewhere,” he said.
Zurflieh said the Head Start moms were seeking a facility where children would be “treated with the same respect and dignity as a patient in a private doctor’s office.”
Linda Hengst serves as CCUC practice manager. She has watched the local need for medical services for the uninsured increase over the 11 years she’s been with the center. According to Hengst, at least 75 percent of the women they treat fall into the free service category.
Their primary funding source, about 59 percent, comes from fees for service, from patient payments, insurance compensation or Title X federal grant funding, according to Hengst.
“Our philosophy at the center remains the same, that everyone deserves the same care that someone with insurance would receive,” Hengst said.
She said that their small size allows for personalized care, and the fact that most of the medical providers have been on staff for 20 years or more enables continuity of care. She noted that the medical staff is bilingual, helping to strengthen patient-provider communication and trust.
One long-time supporter serves as medical director of obstetrics and gynecology and family planning.
Dr. Gwen Gentile first recognized the need for adding women’s care to the center’s services in 1997 and has been a staff or volunteer provider ever since. The 83-year-old doctor has made it her life’s mission to educate women on family planning and ensure those looking to utilize preventative methods have them available.
Ann Froehlich is another long-serving volunteer. For the last 15 years, she has spent an afternoon each week reading to children in the compact waiting room. Froehlich, who got involved through the Dauphin County Medical Society Alliance, said that they continue to support the CCUC through grants, donations from Walk for a Healthy Community and book donations. Froehlich likes that her time now includes letting children pick a book to take home.
“They especially like the phonics and math workbooks,” she said. “I think this helps to allay their apprehension of going to the doctor.”
Hengst said that she sees the center impact lives in two cyclical ways.
“We have parents bring their kids here who were once pediatric patients themselves growing up,” she said. “We also have a lot of former pediatric patients who have reached puberty and now come for women’s education and family planning.”
The center offers additional services through community partnerships.
A domestic violence counselor is on hand weekly through a partnership with the YWCA, and the CCUC participates in a pilot program through United Way called Contact Care, to help eligible uninsured obtain insurance. Through the Healthy Woman program with the Family Health Council of Pennsylvania, breast and cervical cancer testing and follow-up care are offered free of charge.
The CCUC recently celebrated its 25-year partnership with the Harrisburg Housing Authority, which provides rent-free space.
“They are living with us,” said Emily Leader, chair of the HHA board of commissioners.
According to Leader, Hall Manor and the adjacent Hoverter Homes represent the largest population of city public housing community in terms of numbers and density. CCUC continues to work with the Housing Authority as they seek to relocate to a larger space in South Harrisburg to meet growing patient needs.
The Community Check-Up Center 25th Anniversary Celebration, “Stand Up for the Check-Up Center,” takes place Sept. 20 at the Country Club of Harrisburg. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.communitycheckupcenter.org.