When the pediatrician at your health center says he feels like a grandpa to the hundreds of children he has cared for, you know you have created something special.
Marram Health Center in Gary, which just celebrated a three-year anniversary, has built a strong community connection – the kind of connection that is changing lives for the better and helping to pull a community to success.
The organization opened as a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in 2015 after Porter-Starke Services, Inc. received a $541,667 injection from the US Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) in 2011. Such grants – this one facilitated by Congressman Pete Visclosky - are made for opening clinics that provide high-quality, affordable healthcare to individuals and families, regardless of their ability to pay.
While grants provide the framework and startup funding for an FQHC, it’s up to community-oriented minds to find the right healthcare providers who feel a deep sense of connection to caring for the underserved.
Boy, did they ever.
“I like Gary because it’s my bedrock. It’s where I started. I have seen so many kids here, and I fell in love with the city,” said Douge Barthelemy, M.D., Marram’s pediatric provider. “I’m finding myself to be somewhat of a grandpa. I’ve watched them grow, and many of them have become professionals now – basketball players, physicians, engineers. It is always nice to take care of one generation after another. This is my pride, and I feel good about it.”
Marram offers pediatric care, primary care, and in 2016, added a dental office for basic care such as exams, cleanings, fluoride treatments, sealants, and extractions. They also provide women’s care (basic obstetrics/gynecology care), free HIV testing, and mental health services through Porter-Starke. While the medical professionals are at work, others are focused on canvasing Gary and surrounding communities to build awareness and relationships.
“A lot of times, we have to be creative with how we connect people to our services, because we definitely want them to know that we’re here and we’re able to help them with any type of healthcare they need,” said Nina Johnson, community outreach coordinator for Marram. “We’re literally on the streets, providing healthcare for people, coordinating different agencies and organizations. We are at a lot of health fairs, we do presentations at companies, churches and schools – wherever people are, that’s where we like to be.”
In 2016, the clinic served 2,248 patients. That number climbed to 2,500 in 2017, and again to 2,939 in 2018.
Marram has fostered strong partnerships with organizations to help break down the barriers that keep people from getting care. Partners includes Brother’s Keeper, Continuum of Care Network of NWI, Edgewater Health, Gary Public Transportation Corp., Methodist Hospitals, and Sojourner Truth House. Marram’s medical director, Roland Walker, M.D., is a pediatrician by trade, and has his finger on the pulse of the healthcare community across the Region. He has practices in La Porte and Gary, is the executive director of the Health Department Cooperative (a combination of health departments in Gary, East Chicago, and Lake County), and mentors high school students as well.
These kinds of connections are what drives Marram to succeed.
“My favorite part is being able to help people in the community get healthcare. We serve the underserved, the underprivileged, those in homeless shelters – I want to do what I can to help others and make a difference in my community,” Johnson said.
A lot of that work involves downplaying the medical aspects of healthcare, and just connecting with people where they are having fun. Around Halloween, Marram greeted more than 1,200 community members at its most successful Trunk-or-Treat event to date. Their 2018 Power of Health Families event drew more than 400 children and adults outside for healthy activities like jump rope contests and tug of war. And, the Marram back-to-school events connect kids to the necessary immunizations, sports physicals, and annual exams they need to start the year healthy, with the bonus of backpacks full of supplies.
Often, when families or individuals can’t afford basic healthcare, conditions that could have been caught early escalate to dangerous stages. Marram also provides free or low-cost community health screenings to help combat this. They’re offering a Screening Saves Lives colon cancer screening program through June, and have launched the New Year – Healthier Me! initiative to inspire the community to eat healthier, get more exercise, and practice self-care. That program runs through the end of March. Thanks to a grant from the Legacy Foundation, Marram also offers the Healthy Adventures program to promote exercise and healthy eating.
A large part of helping people get comfortable with regular checkups and screenings is helping them remove financial barriers to getting care. Marram staff offer professional assistance with enrolling community members in the Healthy Indiana Plan, or coverage on the federal insurance marketplace to connect them to plans they can afford. For these, and all their efforts, the HRSA found Marram to be 100 percent compliant after a rigorous review of the 93 standards that an FQHC is required to uphold.
For more information about how to connect with Marram in the Gary and surrounding communities, visit them online at http://www.marramhealth.org, or call 219-806-3000.