RACINE — The basement at Julian Thomas Elementary School looks as you’d expect a century-old basement to look.
But when Mayor Cory Mason gives a walk-through, he sees what it’ll become within the next six months if all goes according to plan.
Once the cream brick is cleaned, the floors leveled and hopefully some of the arches preserved, the 5,000 square-foot basement will be able to provide health care to thousands of low-income Racine County residents, and hopefully be designated a Federally Qualified Health Center.
It’s also part of a larger vision for improving education, health and community services in the Lincoln-King neighborhood.
Mason and other partners in the project met with Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm to discuss the project and what can be done at the state level to ensure its success.
A work in progress
In early May, the Racine Unified School District, Racine County and the City of Racine announced they were collaborating to build a health clinic at Julian Thomas, 930 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and that the city Health Department had submitted an application to have it designated an FQHC.
That designation means the facility would qualify to receive funds from the federal Health Resources and Service Administration’s Health Center Program for providing primary care in an underserved area. Racine is the largest city in Wisconsin, and one of the largest in the Midwest, without an FQHC according to Mason.
The proposed plans, which are awaiting approval from the state Department of Safety and Professional Professional Services, show the entrance to the clinic would be the door facing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. A security door would separate the building entrance from the rest of the school and have an elevator to the basement for handicapped access.
Downstairs, the plans for the facility include four primary care examination rooms, two dental exam rooms, a health education room and offices for a case manager and social worker.
The buildout is scheduled to begin this summer. RUSD spokesperson Stacy Tapp said once the plans are approved at the state level, the project will be put up for bid.
The city expects to receive a response to its FQHC application by late August or early September. If approved, the center would need to open by 2020.
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During her visit to Julian Thomas on Thursday, Palm also was given a tour of the large lot owned by the city north of the school. Mason said that in the not-too-distant future, the hope is to open an even larger health facility on that lot.
“There’s a few thousand people who could be served in the basement down here (at Julian Thomas),” said Mason. “There are 41,000 people just in the two zip codes (closest to Julian Thomas) that would be eligible for these services, so we know the need is substantial.”
The grand vision is that the health care center, Julian Thomas and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, 1134 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, located just north of the empty lot, would be connected to provide services to the community.
“That could really have a positive impact,” said Mason. “Twinned with a community school (Julian Thomas) and the King Center, we think the nexus of those three institutions, working collaboratively, could really move the needle on poverty, and health outcomes and educational outcomes, for the neighborhood here.”
Setting up for success
In addition to giving Palm the lay of the land, the group discussed how the state Department of Health Services could help the project succeed.
One big component Palm discussed is Medicaid expansion, which her office estimates would give an additional 3,000 Racine County coverage under Medicaid, which is accepted at FQHCs.
“We would get more participation, get more reimbursements and, more importantly, better health outcomes,” Mason said.
The Medicaid reimbursement from the federal government would save the state about $324.5 million, according to Palm’s office, which she estimated could open up an additional $35 million to invest in public health programs in Racine County.
“That’s not two nickels in a cup of coffee,” said Palm “That’s real money for a community like this.”
One initiative she and Mason highlighted would be remediation of lead paint in older homes. The Finance and Personnel Committee on Monday recommended the City Council approve a request from the city Health Department to apply for $4 million from Housing and Urban Development to address lead paint in the community.
“After Flint, everybody talked about the lead pipes, but in this community a far greater threat in terms of human health around lead is around older homes and lead paint,” said Mason. “That’s a critical component of a program that goes underfunded every year in the City of Racine.”
Gov. Tony Evers has stated he plans to push for Medicaid expansion in 2020. Prominent Republicans, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, have argued they don’t want the estimated 82,000 who would qualify added to the state’s BadgerCare public health-care program and would prefer they remain in the private insurance market.