Healthy Communities Partnership is a grass-roots organization that
set out in 1997 to make Logan County "the healthiest community in
America." Services began in a large, multicolored, corn-emblazoned
bus, which traveled to outlying communities to provide basic health
Now boasting seven task forces, 56 organizations, 14 churches and
an ever-increasing number of volunteers, the presence of the Healthy
Communities Partnership in the community is as strong as ever -- yet
many local residents remain unaware of the group's existence.
Branches of the Logan County Department of Public Health started
the partnership in response to the Illinois Project for Local
Assessment of Needs, or IPLAN, required every five years for
certification with the Illinois Department of Public Health.
"With the IPLANs, they're supposed to come up with the health
priorities for each county," said Kristin Lessen, director of the
Healthy Communities Partnership. "And at that time, access to care
was one of the priorities. So the hospital (Abraham Lincoln
Memorial), the health department, the (Family) Medical Center, the
chamber of commerce and Mental Health (Center) all became involved.
A federal grant was written to try to increase access to people in
the outlying areas, which is what brought about the 'corn bus.'"
The "corn bus" -- as it came to be affectionately known in the
community for its bright exterior colors and graphics -- made its
first rounds in early 1998. Public health nurses from the health
department and a nurse practitioner from Family Medical Center hit
the road five days a week, offering primary and preventive health
care to rural residents in the outlying communities of Logan County.
Nurses with the unit focused on educating patients about common
conditions, to prevent complications, in addition to providing free
screenings and other services.
The demand for mobile health care eventually led to improved
resources. After traveling what would be 3.67 times around the
world, the original mobile unit was replaced by an even larger unit.
In 2006, the HOPE Mobile was launched. Living up to the unit's
name -- Healthcare, Oral Health, Prevention, Education -- the staff
began reserving three days a month for dental appointments,
particularly for children on Medicaid or without dental insurance.
Now, the HOPE Mobile crew is in the midst of their busiest season
of the year -- school physical time.
"We're (in) the school and athletic physical season, so that's
always a big time on the HOPE Mobile," Lessen said. "I've actually
received four or five phone calls today about school physicals. That
tends to be a big draw, especially going out into the smaller
The other six task forces that have since been created or brought
under the Healthy Communities Partnership are Alcohol, Tobacco &
Other Drugs, known as ATOD; Healthy Families; Domestic Abuse &
Violence; Senior Issues; Parish Nurses; and, most recently,
Along with the HOPE Mobile, ATOD was also formed from the
concerns listed in the initial needs assessment required by the
Lessen's involvement with the partnership began with the addition
of the ATOD Task Force. Like many of the volunteers heading the
organization, her work with Healthy Communities Partnership went
hand in hand with her job as the substance abuse prevention
specialist at Mental Health.
"Everyone involved (in HCP) is a volunteer," Lessen said. "There
are no paid people other than HOPE Mobile staff and myself. For a
lot of the task force volunteers, it can be considered part of their
jobs. But there are a lot of people who are committed to the
partnership and it's important to them to be a part of it."
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One major project of the ATOD Task Force is the Safe Ride
program, which sponsors free cab services on major holidays to
prevent drinking and driving.
"We kicked it off on Thanksgiving eve, because that's considered
'drunksgiving eve,' I guess is what it's called," Lessen said. "So
we decided we needed to do something to address that. ... We (also)
offered it Saturday and Sunday nights (of the July 4 weekend), and
there were no DUIs either of those days in Lincoln."
Other services that HCP sponsors are activities that are not only
practical but fun. Last month, ATOD hosted a free community swim
party and barbecue at the Lincoln Park District pool, and the Senior
Issues Task Force offered a senior resource fair, where 25 vendors
promoted available services as well as events such as a dance coming
up in November.
The most recent task force is gearing up to tackle issues that
arise during the school year. Created in late 2008, the Education
Task Force works primarily to decrease truancy in schools and
increase graduation rates.
"(The Education Task Force) is not health care-related," Lessen
said. "However, a lot of the other things the task forces work on
kind of contribute to the dropout and truancy rates: teen pregnancy,
substance abuse, violence, child abuse, you know. It does kind of
directly relate to the economic health of the community. With our
mission being to improve the health and quality of life of the
people we serve, I kind of think this counts as part of that as
Also working to "improve the health and quality of life" are the
Healthy Families Task Force, which aims to decrease teen pregnancy
and STD rates; the Domestic Abuse & Violence Task Force, which seeks
to decrease domestic abuse and foster community awareness; and the
Parish Nurses Task Force, which reaches patients in need through
church and community services.
With the growth of the Healthy Communities Partnership and its
involvement in community affairs, Lessen said she hopes to
consolidate available resources.
"We try to get as many of these agencies and organizations to
work together to decrease duplication of services, because there are
a lot of different organizations trying to do a lot of the same
things, and that's kind of counterproductive," she said.
The Abraham Lincoln Health Care Foundation seeded more than $1
million in an endowment to help fund the services of the Healthy
Community Partnership. While some grants come in, Lessen said that
because of the current state of the economy, "it's hard right now."
But the biggest concern Lessen cites is a promotional lull within
"You know, after 12 years, you kind of get stuck in a rut," she
said. "There are still people who don't know what we do. And, we're
trying to come up with, I guess, innovative ways of improving the
"I think our biggest concern right now is getting people to
remember that they don't have to drive all the way into Lincoln for
something and trying to get them to remember what we're there for."
[By LINDSEY BOERMA]