Will-Grundy Medical Clinic focusing on housing as well as health

Marconi: ‘Because if you don’t have stable housing, it’s very difficult to manage chronic illness’

It’s easy to say this about someone who is struggling: “Well, they’re 25, 30, 40, 50 years old – they should pull themselves up by their bootstraps and figure it out,” Shawn Marconi said.

But Marconi, executive director of the Will-Grundy Medical Clinic in Joliet, disagrees with that attitude. She said the U.S. has 10s of thousands and millions of people across the U.S. on the streets right now where someone said to them, ‘You just need to figure it out,’” Marconi said.

Marconi said some people are so far down, they cannot “figure it out” themselves. That’s why the Will-Grundy Medical Clinic began the Housing, Healthcare and Hope Demonstration Program in July.

Through this program, the clinic partnered with several other community organizations to help its homeless patients obtain housing. These patients might be staying in a traditional shelter, but they might also be living in transitional housing or with family or friends, according to a news release from the Will-Grundy Medical Clinic

The clinic itself provides these patients with-on-one care coordination and medical case management.

“So it’s very clinically focused,” Marconi said. “But our nursing staff knows they also have to wear a social worker hat.”

The goal is to identify barriers these patients have when it comes to accessing primary care services, specialists, medications, at-home health management tools and telehealth technologies – and then help patients develop a plan to overcome them, the news release said.

The program is very non-judgmental, she said.

“We meet them from a position of ‘What do you need?’ and ‘How can we help?’” Marconi said.

It’s true a variety of services are available to help people in Will County. But just because services are available doesn’t mean every person who needs them can access them.

“Because when you are homeless and you’re sick and you’re marginalized and not have the support, it’s hard to access those services,” Marconi said. “That’s where we come in. We advocate. We coordinate. We ensure they get to those appointments. We also work with our partner agencies to make sure they get housing.”

Because sometimes all that is needed to help a person get healthy and stay healthy is a “paradigm shift” and a “holistic approach to care,” Marconi said.

And having stable housing is important to wellness, she feels.

“If you don’t have stable housing, it’s very difficult to manage chronic illness,” Marconi said. “It’s very difficult to take medication on time and to eat right.”

Marconi said a nurse case manager is able to go with these clients to their doctor’s appointments. She can review their medications with them, even if they are living in a shelter, and do wellness checks with them.

“She can help them get tested for COVID when needed and work with them to get them on the list for COVID vaccines,” Marconi said.

For instance, the case manager noticed at a home visit that the client had mixed up his blood pressure medication and his diuretics.

“That would have been very, very dangerous,” Marconi said. “So now she has special containers for his medications.”

Marconi said one can look at helping people from a couple different perspectives. One is the religious perspective, the idea of serving the “least among us.”

But she feels attitude makes sense from a community perspective, too. She gave examples. What happens to children who are homeless and can’t participate in remote learning? Or when a homeless person’s access to care is the local emergency department?

“When an individual that we serve is stable and in housing, then the community is better off,” Marconi said. “When they’re healthy and the cost of their care goes down, we all win.”

Currently one nurse manages the program, Marcon said.

“But we also have other staff members who support the program as well,” Marconi said. “And we do have community volunteers that provide additional support.”

Marconi said one misconception about the Will-Grundy Medical Clinic is that is primarily serves people who are homeless. But that’s not true, she said.

The traditional patients at the Will-Grundy Medical Clinic have jobs and live in an apartment or house, she said.

“But because of the various situations they’re in, they do not have access to health care,” Marconi said.

In the clinic’s traditional program, some clients may be going through the immigration process. But so far, all 20 of the people served so far through the Housing, Healthcare and Hope Demonstration Program have been U.S. citizens, Marconi said.

For more information, visit willgrundymedicalclinic.org.

Denise  Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-time weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.