By Ava O’Malley
U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” Garcia recently announced the Federal government will provide $10.6 million to help fund community projects within the 4th Congressional District, including three in this community.
The money will go to projects that promote affordable housing, community services and councils, nature conservation, education, and healthcare.
Garcia said it “will have a profound impact on the lives of the communities I represent. These investments support underserved areas and make a real difference in the lives of working families.”
Garcia has earmarked $500,000 for the University of Illinois Chicago College of Dentistry for work involving the Heartland Alliance’s Oral Health Forum and the Pilsen Project.
UIC dentistry, Oral Health Forum, and the Pilsen Project filed for funding together with the goal of offering community members not only immediate care but the tools and information to keep oral health issues at bay through long-term prevention.
Scott Tomar, DMD, associate dean for prevention and public health sciences at the college, explained it will use the funds to renovate and reequip a previously vacant dental office in Pilsen.
“We really wanted this to be a place where we could provide what will be called aggressive prevention,” said Tomar, noting the partnership’s administrators want “to really try to address the root causes of why people are developing oral disease in the first place.
“Our perspective on things is, trying to take a step back, looking at the big picture,” Tomar added. “You could just never drill and fill your way out of a public health problem.”
The clinic, once refurbished, will serve as a hub of dental and oral health care for the Latinx community. Alejandra Valencia, DDS, director of Oral Health Forum, explained the site will offer a welcoming space for all community members, regardless of documentation status.
“Any services that we are providing now, and at least for the first year, will be free of charge, meaning that we are not charging anyone,” said Valencia. “We don’t require for people to show us any insurance or any Medicaid card or anything.”
He also noted the clinic will provide training for dental students. While workers remodel the site, Oral Health Forum is supporting community members by connecting them to other dental health centers to meet their immediate needs.
The most prominent dental issue Tomar sees among patients is tooth decay. This preventable problem can lead to infection, swelling, and intense pain and often requires extraction or a root canal. While the College of Dentistry, in partnership with the Oral Health Forum and the Pilsen Project, strives to treat residents for these immediate symptoms, its personnel also want to provide services that will prevent tooth decay from occurring. One key preventive measure consists of education on overall wellness, from diet and nutrition to reducing tobacco use.
“If we don’t deal with the issues that are leading somebody to have severe tooth decay, that are causing problems down the road and the need for extensive and expensive restorative care—if we don’t try to stop what’s causing that, all you’ll keep doing is just filling the next hole or taking out the next tooth,” Tomar said.
St. Anthony growth
Garcia also is directing $923,000 toward relocating St. Anthony Hospital and expanding health services by building the Focal Point Community Campus, a mixed-use campus on 30 contiguous acres at 31st Street at Kedzie Avenue.
According to Jim Sifuentes, senior vice president for mission and community development at St. Anthony’s, neighborhood residents drove the decision to create the campus.
St. Anthony Hospital currently provides services to 440,000 residents in North Lawndale, East and West Garfield Park, Austin, Little Village, Pilsen, Brighton Park, Back of the Yards, McKinley Park, West Elsdon, and most recently, Chinatown, along with Cicero, IL.
“As the Asian American communities move westward, we have opened the doors to be more sensitive to their needs,” Sifuentes said, noting hospital personnel are intentionally reaching out to Asian American communities “and providing our services. We’re looking to open an office in Chinatown proper as well.”
Focal Point will offer residents a hospital, fitness center, event space, childcare center, business incubators, and education center as well as affordable housing.
“We do what we do well, and we want to maintain that,” said Sifuentes. “We’re going to stay a community hospital, no bigger than we are today, which is a 150 bed hospital. Our plan is to provide a state-of-the-future hospital.”
Erie House programs
Another local organization receiving funding is Erie House, which has locations in the West Loop and Little Village. Garcia designated $2 million enabling Erie House to provide “violence prevention, mental health support, and family strengthening services in the Little Village community through culturally competent, bilingual programs including supportive counseling, case management, parent education classes, education and workforce training, and support groups for women,” according to Garcia’s office.
Garcia met with representatives from the selected organizations April 13 to present ceremonial checks.
“I am proud to have fought for funding that will make our communities healthier, safer, stronger, and even more resilient as we recover from the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Garcia said.
Erie House’s website is at https://eriehouse.org/. For more about the Oral Health Forum, go to www.heartlandalliance.org/program/oral-health-forum/. St. Anthony’s website is https://sahchicago.org/. For UIC College of Dentistry, log on to https://dentistry.uic.edu/.