Christian Healthcare Centers Expanding to Newaygo County
Interview with Mark Blocher, President and CEO of Christian Healthcare Centers.
Christian Healthcare Centers (CHC) in Grand Rapids came into existence in 2015 to provide a different approach to healthcare for both doctors and their patients. As a faith-based, not-for-profit organization operating independently from the constraints associated with traditional insurance reimbursement, CHC is free to focus exclusively on patients and their wellness–physically, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. CHC serves patients from every social, economic, and religious demographic. The organization recently broke ground on a new facility in Newaygo, slated to open Spring 2022.
1. Mark tell us about your background. How did Christian Healthcare Centers get started?
My background started in pastoral ministry. I next moved into the nonprofit sector. Eventually I became a bioethicist and taught at Western Michigan University, Cornerstone, and several other universities. In 2012, I worked with a small group of providers regarding ideas on how to improve the primary medical care model to one that is more patient focused and would improve professional satisfaction for physicians. We met with some healthcare attorneys, asking them to research the laws and regulations related to our proposed membership model versus the fee-for-service reimbursement model. They also helped us research if any other organizations were doing what we proposed. They reported that they could not find any laws preventing us from starting a new healthcare model and they could not find anyone else doing healthcare in this way.
We launched a faith-based medical organization in 2015 to provide medical services to the community, particularly those who seemed to fall through the cracks in our healthcare system, such as low-to-moderate income, ALICE households, self-employed, and anyone else who is interested. In the years since opening, we find ourselves serving households that are wealthy, and households with very low income, plus everyone in between. Since Christianity has a lot to contribute to caring for the sick and hurting, we envisioned CHC as a way to bring our Christian faith to bear on the needs of people through our innovative delivery model.
2. How does this model differ from traditional healthcare?
The most distinctive difference is that Christian Healthcare Centers extends the long history of Christian medical ministry, which traces its roots all the way back to the first century. The hospital movement in the US was largely the product of Christian philanthropists and physicians who carried on in the tradition of the Good Samaritan. Some large health systems still bear Christian names. Christian Healthcare Centers is a nonprofit organization that does not apply for any government funding, including Medicare and Medicaid. Our bylaws prohibit us from taking government funding. Our membership model sustains itself. Although we were initially funded by charitable contributions, we are now into our fifth year and have been fully funded by earned income for the last 18 months. We are raising start up funds for the Newaygo center, but anticipate being completely self-sustaining in 18-24 months.
3. How did the organization get started in Newaygo County?
CHC patients from Newaygo County introduced us to community leaders, including the Newaygo city officials, River Country Chamber of Commerce, and other stakeholders, recognizing there was a need for additional affordable, quality medical care. We are not trying to shoehorn our way into the community. We are coming to Newaygo because we have received broad community support, and because of this invitation, we recently broke ground on our center in Newaygo. We currently draw patients from 32 Michigan counties, including Newaygo, Lake, Oceana, Mecosta, and Mason, therefore, a Newaygo office positions us to serve even more patients from these counties. We look forward to collaborating with other health and human service organizations, serving a variety of households, including low-income households. We plan to employ approximately ten people to start and look forward to future growth that results in as many as 20 professionals working in the center.
4. What if a member needs to see a specialist or needs behavioral health care?
We offer two levels of care. Member Care, which involves the typical primary care services that everyone needs (office visits, x-rays, basic labs, medication dispensary for acute care, telemedicine). We also maintain a robust specialist referral network. Our subsidiary, Christian Healthcare Specialists, does accept some insurance plans, and offers self-pay patients very affordable rates. In-office specialist services at the Newaygo center will include procedures such as endoscopy and minor outpatient surgeries. We will add specialty services as more specialists join our group. Counseling is also incorporated into our model so there is close continuity of care between the counselor and the patient’s primary care physician. Many people do not think they need a counselor or have not been able to afford one. We are able to walk someone down the hall during a visit to address behavioral health concerns. When necessary, we include in our referral network other mental health professionals.