When Maribeth Reimer, 55, recalls how she became a volunteer at Community Nurse Health Center’s The Community Shop, she says the memory is bittersweet.
Back in 1994 is when Reimer, a long time resident of Countryside, says her husband fell ill with an aggressive form of leukemia.
Nine months later, in 1995, he died after to a failed bone marrow transplant.
Beyond grief, the young widow was left to raise their three young sons, ages 8, 5 and 3, alone.
Through the first year after his death, Reimer says they were covered by her husband’s company’s health insurance plan.
When that ended, a $700 a month COBRA policy would kick in, or Reimer had the opportunity to return to a demanding full-time job, at a time when her three little boys were dealing with losing their dad.
Neither option suited her parents, so they stepped up and supported their uninsured daughter while she began building an in-home daycare business.
Meanwhile, her boys still had to get school physicals and wellness check-ups. And, at the time, her option as a person without health insurance was to walk in to a free clinic (since then Community Nurse Health Center has shifted from that model) and wait their turn.
“I am in Countryside, right at 55th and Plainfield,” Reimer said, “There was no way that I wanted anyone to know I needed help like this. I was embarrassed and ashamed. That is why I went to another community to get what needed to be done, done.”
When one of her sons had a dental health crisis, she decided that only getting him to a dentist mattered, and for a short window of time they benefitted from the traditional health care services that have been in place in LaGrange for 95 years now.
“Community Nurse Health Center has always seen a huge variety of people who have needs to be met,” says Ellen Kunkel, its development director. “It could be short-term – a person who has lost his or her job, or like Maribeth, is starting a new business. Even with the Affordable Care Act, this is true.”
Angela Curran, CEO and president of Community Nurse Health Center, adds that her nonprofit also fills a need for patients who are experiencing many forms of homelessness: People who are oftentimes doubling up with friends or relatives, living out of their cars, or residing in homeless shelters.
Other patients are a population of Hispanic individuals who interact with bilingual staff members, she says.
“The biggest change for us has been the conversion from more of a free clinic model to a community health center where full-time we have three medical providers, three dental providers, on-site psychiatry, and obstetrical services, in an effort to increase the number of patients we can serve” says Curran.
Currently, about 30 medical specialists volunteer their services.
For the last three years, Reimer says, as a twice-a-week volunteer, she is happy to give back.
“I volunteer at The Community Shop in the basement being a Christmas elf, pricing lights and garland, then putting the items on the shelf … and I cashier,” Reimer says. “Oh my gosh, you really have to enjoy Christmas, and I do. I have so much fun down there.”