RWJF Nurse Fellow Builds a Culture of Health Through the Community Health Center Movement

Apr 4, 2014, 9:00 AM

Linnea Windel, MSN, RN, president and CEO of VNA Health Care in Aurora, Ill., received the Illinois Primary Health Care Association’s Danny K. Davis Award last fall for her leadership of and service to the community health center movement. She is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellows program (2008-2011).


Human Capital Blog: Congratulations on your award!  What does this mean for you and for your organization’s work?

Linnea Windel: The community health center movement (and the work that we do) reaches thousands of uninsured and underinsured people who, in most cases, wouldn’t have access to primary health care services otherwise. The award highlights the purpose of our work and the work of many.

HCB: The award is named for Danny K. Davis, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a champion of the community health center movement. How is VNA Health Care carrying out his mission?

Windel: When we became a federally qualified health center (FQHC) 12 years ago, we were serving 6,000 patients; this year we are on track to serve 60,000 patients. In the space of 12 years, we’ve expanded our service area and now have nine health centers in suburban Chicago. We live out the purpose of the community health center movement and the purpose of the award through the provision of care in communities with significant need.

HCB: Your operating budget has also grown tremendously, from about $6 million a year to nearly $30 million a year. How did you achieve that growth?

Windel: Our organization was founded in 1918 and has a rich visiting nurse history and tradition of providing care in homes and in clinics. We operated preventive care clinics for decades with community support and, later, health department funding.

We had thought about developing a community health center for a long time, but the resources just weren’t there. In the fall of 1999, an opportunity to create a community health center surfaced. That was a very pivotal time for the organization, and we decided to recommit to our clinic services and develop comprehensive primary care clinics that would be eligible for FQHC designation. It was a very important time in our history and an important decision-making point for us.

HCB: What does your growth mean for the population you serve?

Windel: It means access to affordable, convenient primary care. Our growth is also a reflection of the addition of services that our patients need. In addition to primary medical care, we now offer oral health, and we have retail pharmacy, nutrition services, mental/behavioral health, and mammography for low-income women.

HCB: Have you seen a difference in the population you serve since you became president and CEO?

Windel: The most notable change was when the economy turned. In addition to our historical populations, we attracted a population that was newly uninsured. It was interesting; when these people got back on their feet financially or were able to secure a job that had health insurance again, they could have returned to their previous health care provider, but most did not. They really appreciated the relationship they had with their physicians and nurse practitioners at VNA Health Care. They felt that it was a friendly environment and an attractive facility and they liked coming here. That was really gratifying.

HCB: You were an RWJF Executive Nurse Fellow between the years of 2008 and 2011. Did your experience as a fellow play into the decision to expand VNA Health Care?

Windel: I know a lot of people say this, but the fellowship was the single most important professional development experience of my career. What attracted me to the fellowship was a desire to influence health care beyond my local community. It helped me look for ways to affect health care policy and the health care delivery system in a much broader way. In short, the fellowship changed the way I think and, as a result, influenced my decisions at VNA in a foundational way.

HCB: What are your goals for VNA Health Care?

Windel: We are continuing to look at expansion into communities where there are high levels of unmet need. We are always looking at how we are doing in terms of our quality outcomes for patients. And we are using technology to support clinical care and to achieve our clinical outcomes objectives. For instance, in the next couple months, we will be creating a demonstration kitchen at one of our facilities where nutritionists will be giving video-streamed presentations to groups of high school students. We’re looking for ways to help our patients make healthy lifestyle choices and ways to use technology to get that information out to our patients.

HCB: What lessons can other VNAs learn from your growth?

Windel: I think it really starts with a commitment to mission. I go back to those original discussions in 2000 and 2001, leading up to our application to be an FQHC. This stuff is not for the faint of heart. It’s really a rededication to the mission and to creativity and resourcefulness. And it’s very exciting!

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.