Chelsea Palmer would not have ... you are right!

Discussion in 'Dental Archive' started by Joel M. Eichen, Mar 6, 2005.

  1. Published: March 6, 2005

    Business: Healthcare
    Crossroads for clinic
    Clinic must maintain momentum when leader leaves abruptly

    By ELIZABETH DAVIES, Rockford Register Star

    ROCKFORD -- Just a few years ago, Chelsea Palmer wouldn't have been
    sitting in this reclined chair at Crusader Clinic, clutching the tiny
    mirror that allowed her to watch the dentist work inside her mouth.

    Just a few years ago, this 12-year-old might have been put on a
    lengthy waiting list to get her toothache checked out. She might not
    have found another dentist willing to pull her baby tooth for free.

    That's how far Crusader Clinic has come in just a few years.

    Crusader is the region's only health-care provider targeted
    specifically toward the patients in the Rock River Valley who can't
    afford to pay. They are charged based on their income, with donations
    and government grants covering the rest.

    Seven years ago, a man named Will Rodgers took the helm at Crusader --
    then, just a two-clinic operation focused heavily on the south and
    west sides of Rockford.

    Rodgers led the clinic through myriad changes and became a catalyst
    for its growth. He more than doubled the number of dental chairs at
    Crusader and launched operations in Boone and Stephenson counties.
    Under his guidance, Crusader was recognized by the federal government
    for reducing the number of too-tiny babies born in the Rock River

    Rodgers was an ever-present cheerleader for Crusader and a champion
    for its causes, bending the ear of anyone who would listen about the
    good things his clinics were doing.

    That's why it came as such a shock when he handed in his resignation
    letter in mid-February.

    It was effective immediately.

    Local health-care leaders still wonder what the story is behind his
    departure. Some had been in recent meetings with Rodgers and noticed
    nothing amiss.

    Even Crusader's board chairman said it came as a surprise. Troy
    Hedrick, who took over as chairman in January, said he still does not
    know why Rodgers resigned or why he didn't give any notice.

    In a phone interview this past week, Rodgers remained vague about his

    He called the decision 60 percent personal, 40 percent professional.
    There were "issues within the board and that sort of thing, that I
    felt it was time for new leadership," said Rodgers, who plans to do
    similar work as a Rockford-based consultant. "We had gone through some
    changes. ... I decided it was time to move on."

    So why didn't he give two weeks' notice?

    "It doesn't do any good to stay around as a lame duck," he said. "If
    you're going to change leadership, change leadership and move

    While one wouldn't expect that type of exit -- abrupt, and by a
    visible community executive -- to be well-received, Crusader's leaders
    continue to laud their former CEO and adamantly say they trust his

    "It was received with appreciation for that which he has done,"
    Hedrick said. "Certainly, the expansion Crusader has done during
    Will's tenure was significant."

    Gordon Eggers Jr., a member of Rodger's executive team, has been named
    his interim replacement. A search firm has started work to recruit
    candidates for Crusader's next CEO, and a decision is expected in the
    next four to six months.

    Crusader must maintain momentum when leader who's credited with
    significant expansion leaves abruptly

    Eggers, who considers Rodgers among his closest friends, said he's not
    yet decided whether to throw his name in the hat to be the permanent

    Moving forward, Crusader has the task of maintaining the momentum that
    leaders have generated in recent years. The nonprofit organization
    also has opportunities to form new relationships and find different
    ways of approaching the community's health problems.

    Clearly, the demand for Crusader's services is on the rise: 40,162
    patients went to Crusader in 2004, an 11 percent increase over 2003.

    The clinic holds between 8 percent and 10 percent of local market
    share, estimated Joel Cowen, health care analyst with the University
    of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford.

    Those numbers are expected to grow as the cost of medical care makes
    it harder to secure traditional health insurance. Already, nearly 35
    percent of Illinois residents have jobs but not health insurance.

    "Crusader will need to focus on their breadth as the community they
    serve becomes wider and larger," said Dr. Bill Gorski, chief executive
    officer of SwedishAmerican Health System, the hospital where many
    Crusader patients go. "Crusader will have to tap providers throughout
    the community to serve these populations."

    A community staple

    A smile lingers on Marisol Mondragon's lips as she watches, engrossed,
    at the fuzzy image of her firstborn on the monitor.

    By the doctor's calculations, it will be weeks before Mondragon meets
    her little girl.

    But, in what likely will be her final ultrasound test, she already can
    see the baby's ears and her tiny heart beating.

    Babies are one of Crusader's specialties.

    Its obstetric doctors and nurses last year cared for 805 babies, a 30
    percent increase from 2003.

    "If Crusader wasn't here in the community ..." vice president Linda
    Niemiec says before pausing and shaking her head, "I would perish the

    Natasha Walker, a 22-year-old from Rockford, first went to Crusader on
    her sister-in-law's advice two years ago when she became pregnant for
    the first time.

    Walker's office visits at Crusader are paid for by the state Medicaid
    program, and she pays $2 for each prescription through Crusader's

    It helps this stay-at-home mom save money, rather than paying extra to
    go on the health insurance program offered through her husband's
    telemarketing job.

    Now pregnant with her second boy -- Jeremiah is due Monday -- Walker
    is happy to have found Crusader.

    "It's nice, and it's good service," she said. "I wouldn't go anywhere

    Crusader also offers general medical care to adults and children, and
    a range of specialties such as podiatry and optometry -- both of which
    are key to managing diabetes among the 5 percent of Crusader patients
    who have the illness.

    "They fill a very critical need for the underserved population," said
    David Schertz, administrator of OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center.
    "They've done an admirable job."

    More services, more locations

    In the years that Will Rodgers led Crusader Clinic, it added services
    and improving existing ones. Among the efforts:

    A Memory Diagnostic Center opened in Crusader's Broadway office in
    2001, offering both cognitive and medical tests for Alzheimer's and
    other types of dementia.

    Crusader improved prenatal care to decrease the number of
    low-birth-weight babies in the region. The result: Crusader came up
    with the smallest percentage of low-birth-weight babies among 700
    health clinics in the country and its prenatal efforts became a model
    for other communities.

    Fifteen dental chairs were installed at the Broadway clinic, more than
    doubling the number of dental patients Crusader could see.

    An education program was put in place for diabetic patients, including
    free classes and support groups.

    By the time the Rock River Valley rang in 2004, Crusader already had
    made plenty of gains. But it was no longer enough to offer medical
    care in Rockford alone. It was time to grow.

    So in May, Crusader set up shop in the Stephenson County Health

    It took over responsibility for the primary medical care given there,
    and launched dental services.

    Then in June, Crusader used federal money to open a 7,600-square-foot
    office at 1050 Logan Ave. in Belvidere. Its bilingual staff is
    valuable for the 12.5 percent of Boone County residents who are

    Making the move into those areas was key, said Swedish American's

    "There are too many people who are underinsured and uninsured ... and
    it's not just in Rockford, it's in other communities," he said.

    Without Crusader in Belvidere, many of its patients might have avoided
    doctor visits altogether. Or, perhaps they would have waited until the
    problem became too big, then headed to an emergency room in Rockford.

    "They're filling a need we've had for some time," said Doug Beardsley,
    Boone County Health Department administrator. "Their caseloads have
    been going up. It's a great thing."

    Looking ahead

    Expect to see dental chairs in Crusader's Boone County clinic. Expect
    more obstetricians delivering babies in Rockford hospitals.

    That's Crusader's future, its leaders say.

    Obstetrics and dentistry clearly will take priority as Crusader
    readies itself for the years to come.

    Crusader predicts that its doctors will be responsible for delivering
    25 percent of all Rockford babies this year.

    To do that, it needs to continue with the plans Will Rodgers started
    to make.

    "We really can't leave that segment of the population at status quo,"
    said Mike Bacon, Winnebago County Health Department administrator. "We
    have to continue to be aggressive there."

    Even without Rodgers, Crusader's leaders say they're primed to make
    the necessary changes.

    "The leadership here is a group leadership," Eggers, the interim CEO,
    said. "Will was at the helm and did a great job. But without Will
    here, we're still a strong group.

    "We've had a leadership change, but we're really still firing on all
    four cylinders."

    Beyond offering new services, Crusader's incoming leader will face the
    task of working in harmony with the city's three competing hospital
    systems and the local medical school.

    That's easier said than done.

    Crusader and Rockford Health System say they want to do more work
    together, but it's clear when they speak about one another that the
    relationship is strained.

    A prenatal clinic that was housed at Rockford Health System and run by
    Crusader has been moved off-site, and Crusader's doctors aren't
    authorized to work at Rockford Memorial Hospital.

    "It would be best for all of us to collaborate," said Dr. Milton
    Schmitt, chief medical officer at Rockford Health System. "We'll be
    committed to still trying to provide whatever care we can in a
    collaborative method. We stand ready to continue to support them."

    Crusader also can expect to do more work with the area's only medical

    Now, the school's students and residents train at Crusader, and the
    two organizations are trying to find ways to improve care for pregnant

    'Evolving' with med school

    Dr. Martin Lipsky became dean of the University of Illinois College of
    Medicine at Rockford in mid-2004.

    He looks forward to what he calls an "evolving role" with Crusader.

    "As an outsider to the community, I was very impressed. Crusader is
    one of the leading and best community health systems I've seen," he
    said. "Although I'm sad Will's leaving, I've been pretty impressed
    with Gordon as far as his management style, his work ethic and a
    heartfelt commitment to serving the community."

    His advice to the executive Crusader taps to lead it into the future?
    Build strong relationships, particularly with area doctors and
    hospitals. It will be vital for Crusader to have that muscle in its
    corner as more and more patients turn to its clinics for help.

    "Crusader relies on the community to support it," Lipsky said. "They
    really need the community to pitch in and help them."

    Contact: ; 815-987-1341

    If you’re uninsured and need help

    If you do not have medical insurance, consider the following options:
    Crusader Clinic: Offers primary medical and dental care, along with
    prescription drugs, on a sliding-fee scale based on patient income.
    Winnebago County Health Department: Offers general preventive health
    services for women and children. Black male health services also
    available. 815-962-5092. Provides news, information and resources for
    people without health insurance.
    Illinois Office of Consumer Health Insurance: Serves as ombudsman for
    the uninsured. 877-527-9431. Gives health insurance quotes and coverage
    information for groups, businesses and individuals. Provides private health insurance and
    consumer rights information.
    KidCare: State program provides low-cost or free health insurance for
    children through age 18. To find out if your child is eligible, call
    866-4-OUR-KIDS or visit You also can
    enroll through Rockford Health Council at 815-395-5701.
    FamilyCare: State program provides low-cost or free coverage for
    children and parents. Income limits apply. Enrollment available
    through Rockford Health Council at 815-395-5701.

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    Joel M. Eichen, Mar 6, 2005
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