Gary Health Department vaccinations

Medical assistant Sherry Williams prepares a vaccine in 2015 at the Gary Health Department. The agency's Maternal Child Health Clinic will close at the end of this year.

A clinic that served uninsured and underinsured women and children in Gary for more than four decades will close at the end of the year, the city has announced.

The last day of business for the Maternal Child Health Clinic at the Gary Health Department will be Dec. 31.

"Over the years, we've had families come back and consistently bring their children even though they could have gone somewhere else when they got insurance," said clinic director Shirley Borom. "We've had sisters or cousins or aunts say, 'If you're pregnant, go to the clinic.'"

The clinic is closing because the Indiana State Department of Health did not award it grant funding for the first time since 1979. The city of Gary had provided matching funds every year. The most recent grant was for $100,000.

The staff of five will be let go: the director, program director, registered nurse, medical assistant and social worker.

Megan Wade-Taxter, a spokeswoman for the state department of health, said the agency received three applications for the Early Start grant in Lake County, but "due to limited resources," only awarded one.

"The applicant receiving the grant, Mental Health America of Lake County, offers a broader scope of services, including child injury prevention, smoking cessation, home visiting and safe sleep education," she said.

The Gary clinic opened in the late 1970s as the Children and Youth Clinic to care for uninsured kids. The facility's focus shifted in 1991, to address Lake County's high rate of infant deaths, when it received state funding to also treat uninsured women, adopting its current name.

The city's health care landscape has changed in that time. Gary now has two federally qualified health centers — Community Healthnet and Marram Health Center — that serve patients regardless of their ability to pay. The Hoosier Healthwise program has also expanded health insurance to numerous children across the state, and coverage has grown for adults under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

Borom said the clinic has gone from seeing about 2,000 children a year when she started in the 1990s to about 300 today. She said the facility largely cares for transient residents, people who moved from out of state and lost their insurance in the process.

The clinic provided physicals for children, including immunizations and screenings for hearing, vision and anemia, as well as OB-GYN services. The social worker helped enroll residents in insurance and get patients to appointments.

Dr. Douge Barthelemy served as the clinic's pediatrician for 41 years, while Dr. Anthony Iwuagwu was an OB-GYN specialist at the facility for 15 years.

The clinic's staff will hold a closing dedication event from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Gary Health Department, 1145 W. Fifth Ave.

Borom said that between the staff and patients, the clinic had a family environment.

"We have pictures all on the wall of families," she said. "When they had their babies, they bring their pictures. We had baby showers for them to make them feel more welcome."


Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.