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Women's health center moves to Uptown
By Janean L. Watkins

Amidst an audience of clients, community supporters, board members and members of the collective, Chicago Women's Health Center ( CWHC ) celebrated its recent move to the Uptown neighborhood.

The organization was housed in Wrigleyville's Links Hall prior to moving to their new location at 1025 W. Sunnyside Ave. in Uptown. Director Jess Kane expressed her joy at being able to move to a community from where many of CWHC's clients hail.

"We found that many of the people we serve come from Uptown, so it's great that we can be in this community," Kane said. "We're only a mile and a half from where we were before and still near the Red Line which was important to us. We wanted to remain accessible for all of our clients."

The new area houses three counseling rooms, one room for the Integrative Health Program and four gynecological exam spaces. The new facility is fully accessible, with a room equipped with an exam table specifically made for providing care to people with physical disabilities.

Chicago Women's Health Center opened its doors in 1975 with a mission born from the radical ideals of the underground Jane Collective; a core belief that health care should be accessible for all.

"Everyone should have access to the same quality of health care," said Kane.

Moving to Uptown was just one aspect of the organization's efforts to expand services. They have also established a number of relationships with other organizations in Uptown, allowing them to offer clients a variety of resources.

In addition to earned income, about 30 percent of CWHC's funding is derived from grants. One such donation is being put to use to provide greater access to clients. With the help of the Crown family, the center is hiring nurse practitioners to join the provider team.

They will also be able to bill insurance companies beginning this summer, something they haven't done in recent history.

CWHC has been able to deliver care to many uninsured or underinsured clients because of their commitment to sustaining their sliding-scale fees for services. Through partnerships with outside entities like and Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, the center offers clients a holistic approach to health care with acupuncture and therapeutic bodywork.

"In relation to the Affordable Care Act, this will enable us to not only ensure [that] we continue to be financially accessible to those who do not have insurance, but also ensure we are financially accessible to the growing number who do have insurance," said Kane.

This summer is slated to bring about many new initiatives. One of these will be newly offered primary care options at the center itself.

"We see clients as not only body parts," said Kane. "We've always approached [providing health care] by seeing the whole person, now we'll be able to offer care for more aspects of the entire individual."

In 2007, CWHC changed its mission to include transgender people after conducting assessments to understand the needs of their clients. Since then, it has offered masculinizing hormone therapy, counseling acupunctureand massage services to trans individuals. Now, because of support given by the Chicago Foundation for Women's LBTQ Giving Council, it will begin to offer feminizing hormone therapy in May of this year.

"CWHC is a place where everyone is respected and they can receive compassionate care that addresses their needs. They can also be an active participant in their care," said current board member and former intern Courtney Chambers. "You are the expert in your own care."

Under the direction of collective member Scout Bratt, CWHC also offers education and outreach for a sliding-scale fee. They've established a partnership with Communities in Schools of Chicago and offer fourth through twelfth grade students with access to resources, self-esteem building exercises and positive body image classes.

"We've provided these services for about 3,227 youth and adults who have engaged in our program," said Megan Selby, Collective member. "The program also offers tips and resources to parents about communicating with their children about health care."

CWHC prides itself on its ability to offer services to its clients while still maintaining its niche for empowering the individual.

"We're really doing the work and want our clients to inform how we do that work," said Kane. "We are providing health care the way we think it should be provided, health care that is dignified and empowering."

Disclaimer: The author of this article is partnered with a CWHC health educator.

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