Last month Saint Mary's hospital announced that it will no longer support Catherine's Care Center. The reason for this decision has not been made clear; however Saint Mary's assured everyone that this present no problem for the Care Center's 2,500 patients (mostly indigent or uninsured), because other nearby clinics can pick up the slack. The Wege and Belknap Commons Health Centers were prominently mentioned in this regard. A survey of community healthcare clinics in the area by L.A.W. does not support Saint Mary's contentions.
L.A.W. contacted nine clinics in the Grand Rapids area which are identified as healthcare facilities available to the general public and the underserved in particular. Our survey excluded those clinics which have a narrowly targeted clientele, such as Clinica Santa Maria serving Hispanics or the McAuley Center treating HIV/AIDS patients. The survey group consisted of Catherine's Care Center at 224 Carrier Street, N.E., in Grand Rapids; Belknap Commons Health Center at 751 Lafayette Avenue, N.E.; Wege Health Center at Saint Mary's Hospital at 300 Lafayette Avenue, S.E.; Cherry Street Health Center at 550 Cherry Street, S.E.; Ferguson Adult Health Center at 75 Sheldon Avenue, S.E.; Burton Health Center at 2133 Buchanan Avenue, S.W.; Salvation Army Booth Clinic at 1215 E. Fulton Street; Westside Health Center at 669 Stocking Avenue, N.W.; and Sparta Health Center at 475 S. State Street in Sparta.
We asked each clinic if an appointment was available within the week to see a doctor about a "female" infection. Each clinic was informed that the patient was uninsured and had little or no means to pay for any care. The results were as follows:
 Catherine's Care Center could see the patient within 48 hours. Payment, if any, would be on a sliding scale based upon income. The same for lab work, some of which is done in-house. Financial assistance could also be provided for prescription medicines, including distribution of free samples.
 Belknap Commons Health Center was not taking any new patients. The soonest that might change is in August. They refered the patient to Cherry Street Health Center.
 Wege Health Center was welcoming until the receptionist learned our patient was uninsured and passed her off to another person. Wege had no immediate appointments available but could see the patient in July. However, the patient would have to pay for the visit ($79) and lab work (extra) with insurance or cash. No financial help was available for prescription medicines.
 Cherry Street Health Center (which is affiliated with Belknap Commons) had appointments available within the week. The clinic required a $15 payment to see either a doctor or nurse, which included lab work if done in-house. If the patient met the income requirements, Cherry Street might also be able to help with free samples of prescription medicines if available.
 Ferguson Adult Health Center had appointments available within the week if the patient was willing to see a male doctor. A female doctor would be available during the following week. Payment for the office visit would be determined on sliding scale of fees based upon income. No specific cost was given. The same sliding scale applied to lab work also. Prescription medicines were not included in this, but Ferguson would try to help the patient get into a PAP plan if long-term medication were needed.
 Burton Health Center did not have any openings for adult patients at this time; perhaps later this year. They recommended the patient to Cherry Street Health Center.
 Salvation Army Booth Clinic was able to see the patient within the week, although that would not always be the case because of varying patient load. They refered the patient to Planned Parenthood for her problem if she could not wait. The Booth Clinic, like Ferguson, charged on a sliding scale based upon income for office visits. No information on financial assistance for lab work and prescription medicines.
 Westside Health Center could probably see the patient within the week. Payment similar to Ferguson; a sliding scale fee for office visits and lab work, and help with a PAP plan for prescription medications.
 Sparta Health Center might be able to the see the patient the same day. Payment for office visits and lab work on a sliding scale based upon income, plus they would assist the patient with enrolling in the Kent County Health Insurance Program. No information regarding financial assistance for prescription medicines.
In summary, three of the eight alternatives to Catherine's Care Center were not taking new patients (Belknap Commons, Wege, Burton). Of the remainder, only Sparta Health Center could see the patient as soon as Catherine's Care Center. As for payment, only the Sparta Health Center was as accommodating as Catherine's Care Center to our uninsured patient, although Saint Mary's Wege Health Center was the only one unwilling to provide any financial assistance.
In our assessment the Sparta Health Center compared well with Catherine's Care Center. However, Sparta's primary mission is caring for migrant farmers and is located more than twenty minutes (by car) from downtown. If a patient has some ability to pay, the nearby Cherry Street Health Center, Booth Clinic, and Ferguson Adult Health Center provide an alternative to Catherine's Care Center. But, it looks doubtful that these clinics could absorb the Care Center's unique clientele of 2,500 mostly uninsured patients -- not to mention the few thousand other people in Northeast G.R. that Catherine's Care assists through its outreach programs.
The bottom line of our survey is that all of these clinics have their place in the local healthcare system, and none of them are poised to replicate the role Catherine's Care Center plays in our community.