PORTAGE — Jan Wilson said she never thought she'd be standing where she was Monday afternoon.
Some 20 years ago, Wilson was the head nurse for Portage Township Schools. She knew then there was a need for more health care services in the community, especially for the uninsured and underinsured.
Monday afternoon Wilson, now CEO of NorthShore Health Centers, was joined by dozens of others as she tossed the first shovel of dirt ceremonially marking the groundbreaking of an $18 million "flagship" clinic and administrative offices for the federally-funded health care center.
It was an appropriate birthday gift for Wilson, who was presented with a special shovel listing all the facilities opened under her guidance and was serenaded with a rendition of "Happy Birthday."
"I never thought there would be the need. I thought we would just be the 10,000-square-foot clinic in the high school," she said.
NorthShore continued to grow within and outside of Portage and now offers services in Chesterton, Hammond, Merrillville and Lake Station as well.
The new building, which will be under construction this fall on Willowcreek Road, south of U.S. 6, will be 51,000 square feet. It will be an "all encompassing" clinic, she said, offering all services to residents throughout Porter County. It will also include administrative offices.
The first year the clinic opened in the high school, Wilson said there were 700 patient visits. So far, in 2018, there have been 161,000 patient visits serving 72,000 people. Staff have also delivered 1,221 babies.
"We are here for the uninsured and underinsured, but we have a lot of insured patients because of the quality of care," said Wilson.
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, told the crowd that he was one of those patients.
"This community health center is for everyone I have used the services of NorthShore in Lake Station," said Visclosky, adding it is the "talent, expertise and good hearts" of the people who run NorthShore that has made it a success.
State Rep. Charlie Brown also lauded the center and its services.
"I just cannot believe the progress they have made in the last 10 years," said Brown, who Wilson said helped get funding for the center.
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