The Free Clinics of the Great Lakes Region is a network of volunteer- based clinics from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin that provide health care services to the uninsured or medically under-served. They will improve access to health care through advocacy, mentoring and networking efforts.
Free Clinics of the Great Lakes Region was formed in December 1996 by a group of clinic directors from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio. These individuals hoped to formalize the grassroots networks of free clinics in the Midwest and draw attention to the hundreds of thousands of uninsured working poor in the United States. Free Clinics of the Great Lakes Region is the first regional network of free health clinics in the country.
Support to formalize FCGLR and facilitate its first conference was made possible in 1997 through a $6,900 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. More than 25 clinics from six states attended that first conference and participants discussed ways the new regional network of free clinics could collaborate and develop common strategies to cope with the demands of the increasing population of medically uninsured. Though the clinics all operate independently and have different areas of focus (primary care, chronic disease management, dental, preventative, etc.), they are united by a common goal to address the needs of the uninsured with dignity and respect with the hope that health care will be available to everyone at some point in the future.
A second regional conference was held in April 1998 with more than 42 clinics representing seven states. Awareness of the network grew exponentially in April 1999 when 53 clinics from the seven-state Great Lakes region and six other states gathered for the third annual conference. Much of the increased awareness of the network in 1999 can be attributed to the "Accessing the Impact of the Free Clinics of the Great Lake Region" survey that Volunteers in Health Care (funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) conducted for the network. The goal of the survey was to identify all of the free health clinics in the region and involve them in the network.
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation funded an additional grant of $38,000 to support the growth and development of Free Clinics of the Great Lakes Region. This grant was administered by Jane Zwiers, R.N., the Executive Director of the First Presbyterian Church Health Clinic in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and was facilitated by a steering committee of seven clinic directors, each representing one of the seven regional States. That grant enabled the network to focus on the areas of partnering, visibility, mentoring, and communication between clinics.
Today, the 200+ clinics of the network remain linked via their site, the annual conference, email and other social networking venues. The challenge facing free clinics in their mission to serve those that would otherwise go without basic health care provisions continues to escalate with the growing number of uninsured and underinsured throughout the country.
For so long as free clinics are needed to serve the underserved, FCGLR will continue to offer encouragement, guidance, insight, information, support, and mentoring throughout the network.