After nearly five years in the works, a vision for community-embedded health care in Ypsilanti Township's West Willow neighborhood will finally come to fruition starting June 27. A new medical clinic, called Packard Health West Willow, will be open one day per week inside New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church
at 2345 Tyler Rd., with plans to expand hours in the future.
Besides the not-for-profit health care provider Packard Health
and the church, community partners in the clinic include the University of Michigan (U-M) School of Nursing
, the New West Willow Neighborhood Association
, and the nonprofit Healthy Together West Willow
Signs in the church's parking lot point to the entrance for the new clinic. In one area of the church building is a reception area, already stocked with masks and hand sanitizer. Patients will check in there and can even have some basic vitals taken. Then, a patient will walk down a hallway painted with cheerful cartoons of flowers, frogs, and birds to the main clinical area.
New Covenant Pastor David Crout offered several unused spaces in the church, but the church's nursery had all the amenities the clinic needed. The space is newly painted in pastel blues and greens, decorated on a shoestring budget by the School of Nursing.
Pastor David Crout of New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church by the church's gardens.
The clinic contains a seating area with a table covered in Packard Health flyers, and there's an exam table, a scale, a sink, a private changing area with a toilet, and a centrifuge. The space just needs a desk for the practitioner before it opens in early June.
The new clinic will serve patients 12 years and older from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each Tuesday. All patients are welcome regardless of health insurance status, and fees will be assessed on a sliding scale.
Charlie Yingling, an associate dean at the U-M School of Nursing, describes the idea behind community-embedded health care as "bringing health care where the people are, not bringing the people to where health care is."
The new health clinic grew out of community feedback to Healthy Together West Willow. The U-M School of Nursing has been partnering with Healthy Together on a number of projects, including having students in U-M's Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program lead chair exercise classes, technology workshops, and more, based on community needs. That early feedback suggested neighborhood residents wanted more health care choices close to home.
U-M School of Nursing Clinical Associate Professor Michelle Pardee.
"I've been working with the West Willow community and Healthy Together since before the pandemic, and this clinic was one of the wishes of the community," says Michelle Pardee, clinical associate professor in the U-M School of Nursing. "When I joined Healthy Together West Willow in 2019, I was at one of the first meetings between the school of nursing and Healthy Together and Pastor Crout. It took a long, long time to get here, and the pandemic did not help. "
Tracey Williams, practice director with Packard Health, says the clinic was established at New Covenant in part because Crout offered the space, but also because he and the church are already heavily involved in the community, from offering summer camps to supporting local gardening efforts. She says the church's offer of space was the "major component" that helped bring all the partners together.
"It means a lot to be able to say, 'You know, I could go to the doctor right around the corner,' rather than getting a ride to urgent care or the emergency department. Having access here is huge," Williams says.
There was a plan, a location, and a set of community partners, but the project needed a health care partner. Becca Fleming, director of community health initiatives for Packard Health, says the School of Nursing reached out to Packard with the idea.
Packard Health Director of Community Health Initiatives Becca Fleming.
"They knew what Packard was all about, our values, and what we're doing for the community," Fleming says. "Unfortunately, they didn't have the funding to make the pieces come together and support it. But we kept the conversations going, and about a year and a half ago, we got the funding."
That funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund
was secured by Nurse Practitioner Patricia Tillman-Meakins, who will see patients at the new West Willow clinic, and Pardee.
As a faculty member in the School of Nursing, Tillman-Meakins became aware of the needs in West Willow after placing clinical students there through Healthy Together.
"The more time I spent in West Willow, I saw there was a need for a clinic," Tillman-Meakins says.
Nurse Practitioner Patricia Tillman-Meakins.
The clinic will offer a range of services based on surveys and other community feedback. It's not for "acute care," Tillman-Meakins says, but she can check medications, draw blood, monitor blood pressure, and do other primary care tasks at the clinic. Because the clinic is part of the Packard Health system, patients will also have access to Packard's wraparound services, such as access to its food pantries.
Tillman-Meakins calls Packard an "excellent partner."
"As a child, I went to Packard Health," Tillman-Meakins says. "My mom was a single mom and didn't have much money, and Packard Health saved us. That's why I wanted to go into health care in the first place."
Charlie Yingling, Tracey Williams, Patricia Tillman-Meakins, Michelle Pardee, Emilie Hock, and Becca Fleming at Packard Health West Willow.
The clinic's original opening date of April 21 had to be postponed due to Tillman-Meakins' recovery from a surgical procedure. Packard Health staff will begin seeing patients June 27. See a short video of neighborhood association members touring the clinic space here
For more information or to schedule an appointment at the new clinic, call (734) 971-1073. Information about Packard Health West Willow, including hours and bus routes that serve the area, will soon be added to the Packard Health website here
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at email@example.com.
All photos by Doug Coombe.