OneWorld Community Health: Caring, Affordable Services for a Multicultural World in Need
As Obama Care gets put through the ringer by the U.S. Supreme Court with no firm result in sight of whether it will survive intact or not, at least some uninsured folks do not fall through the health care safety net thanks to existing initiatives like that of OneWorld Community Health Centers Inc. in Omaha. Here’s a short story I did awhile back about OneWorld and its approach to caring for the underserved.
OneWorld Community Health: Caring, Affordable Services for a Multicultural World in Need
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in El Perico
Even as OneWorld Community Health Centers Inc. has become South Omaha‘s largest health care provider and is now poised for expansion, CEO Andrea Skolkin says the not-for-profit tries keeping the spirit of its grassroots start alive.
In every measurable, from staff to providers to patients to services to facilities, OneWorld’s grown since a humble beginning in 1970 as the Indian-Chicano Health Center. This once small, all-volunteer endeavor has evolved into a large enterprise of salaried professionals and extensive medical and dental services.
OneWorld serves some 18,000 patients a year at its Livestock Exchange Building clinics, network provider partner sites, schools and community centers. Yet Skolkin says its founding culturally sensitive, social justice mission still permeates OneWorld. Serving anyone who comes and treating them with dignity, she says, is in the corporate DNA.
“It’s really who we are and we never forget to remind ourselves of where we came,” she says. “That is really important to us.”
At its core are decades-long partnerships with local providers and physicians, many of whom donate their services.
Originally targeting Native Americans and Chicanos, OneWorld sees a diverse patient base today, although predominantly Spanish-speakers. Skolkin says it’s the area’s largest primary care clinic with a majority bilingual and bicultural staff.
She says one way the federally qualified health center stays true to its community-based mission is a government mandate that 51 percent of the board be patients of the center, thus giving patients a voice in holding OneWorld accountable.
“We’re about providing the best health care we can to the most people we can,” says Skolkin, “especially people who are underserved. Trying to make sure everybody has access to health care is what it’s really about. Our board keeps that paramount and reminds itself of that mission every time we meet.”
A sliding fee scale is applied to the uninsured, who make up the majority of patients.
She says OneWorld has stayed responsive to the working poor even as the organization’s grown. After outstripping the original location at 24th and Vinton, the center moved to 36th and Q in 1999, when it launched a Women, Infant and Children program. A more recent growth spurt began in 2001, when OneWorld was designated a federally qualified health center and received its first operating grant from the Bureau of Primary Health Care.
In 2003 the board adopted the current name to better reflect the clientele. In 2005 OneWorld moved to its present digs, in the lower three floors of the historic Livestock Exchange Building, thereby radically enlarging its clinical space. The move was necessitated, says Skolkin, by rising demand.
“We were turning away people right and left because we just had no space in those smaller clinics,” she says.
The new site appeared to resolve the space shortage, but the need has once again exceeded resources.
“We’ve started to turn patients away here because we’re full up and there’s no room,” says Skolkin. “Looking at the demographics of South Omaha and the surrounding area it became clear we either have to open up some more clinic locations throughout the city and/or expand what we have here, and our strategy is really both of those.”
In November she announced plans for the construction of two new buildings adjacent to the Livestock Exchange Building at 30th and L. The additions, adding 64,000 square feet of clinical space or roughly double current capacity, will give OneWorld more of a campus feel. The brick structures will contain a combination of health services and affordable housing units. A women’s health center will be housed in one building.
Skolkin expects the extra space will allow OneWorld to double the number of patients it serves. The expansion will also allow some satellite services to be consolidated on campus, creating more of a one-stop-shop experience. She says having an array of services together is important for patients who lack transportation or whose hourly jobs make multiple visits difficult.
The expansion is being financed by a $9 million federal grant and a combination of low income housing tax credits, city money and private philanthropy. Construction is expected to start in the summer, with a 2012 move-in. She’s also eying new satellite sites in southeast and southwest Omaha.
Skolkin says while some other community health care providers have come and gone, “we’re still standing and very strong now.” With the economic outlook still shaky and health care reform straggling, she says OneWorld’s role remains vital.
“Poverty is the main issue. Even the middle class are really stretched. People need support. They just can’t make it. We can’t rest until everyone has access to health care. It’s just unconscionable in a community as affluent as Omaha people should be not be able to take care of themselves when sick.”
- The Healthiest Nation in One Generation (giveacareindy.org)
- Health care debate: Universal coverage needed (cbsnews.com)
- Health Systems Ignore Patients at Their Own Peril – Forbes (drugstoresource.wordpress.com)
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Author-journalist-blogger Leo Adam Biga resides in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. He writes newspaper-magazine stories about people, their passions, and their magnificent obsessions. He's the author of the books "Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film – A Reporter's Perspective 1998-2012," a compilation of his journalism about the acclaimed filmmaker, and "Open Wide" a biograpy of Mark Manhart. Biga co-edited "Memories of the Jewish Midwest: Mom and Pop Grocery Stores." His popular blog, leoadambiga.wordpress.com, is an online gallery of his work.
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