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Free clinic closing on Nov. 1

Agape provides prescription refills, tests, referrals to local patients

Published: Friday, Oct. 26, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT
Connie Cato (right), Agape co-founder and director, and office staff member Shirley Robertson stand outside the Agape Care Team Health Services office at 16 E. Miller Road in Sterling. The free clinic will close its doors Nov. 1.

STERLING – After 15 years of providing free health care for the poor, a faith-based clinic has run its course and is closing its doors Nov. 1.

Director Connie Cato, a physician assistant, and her late husband, Harrel, and Dr. Hasmukh Shah and his wife, Jyotsna, opened Agape Care Team Health Services in 1997 in the basement of the Rock River Christian Center in Rock Falls.

From 2001 to 2006, it was operating out of the Whiteside County Health Department. It’s now at 16 E. Miller Road in Sterling. Most of the staff are volunteers.

“We’ve done it for 15 years,” said Cato, 64, of Tampico. “It’s a long time. It’s hard to keep a clinic open without a lot of funding and paid positions.”

She’s been preparing patients for its closure since May 2010. They all have primary care physicians, and most will use the Whiteside County Health Department’s clinic, Cato said.

She’s also referring patients to other local nonprofits and providing information on getting free medication from drug companies, she said.

Harrel Cato died 4 years ago, and Shah is stepping down as collaborating physician, said Ed Andersen, president and CEO of CGH Medical Center, which owns the building and has given the clinic free medical supplies over the years.

“This was a mission of Connie and her husband and with Dr. Shah. She needs a collaborating physician,” said Andersen, whose wife, Jan, was a nurse practitioner at Agape. “This has kind of been winding down.”

Fundraising also “is getting to be an issue” for the clinic, Andersen said, and state grants are drying up.

About 18 months ago, the clinic’s mission changed, he added. At first, it was a place for those who had no access to health care at all and who couldn’t afford prescriptions.

When the county Health Department became federally funded, and drug companies developed programs to offer low-cost medications, poeple had other places to go and the need for Agape’s services diminished.

Now Agape primarily helps low-income and uninsured patients obtain medications, diabetic supplies, some lab tests and X-rays.

The clinic sees patients from Whiteside, Lee, Ogle and Carroll counties, but so far this year has had only 244 provider visits. It’s refilled 1,638 prescriptions. In all of 2011, 357 provider visits were made and there were 2,556 refills.

Cato, who has four children, a stepson and 11 grandchildren, now will be spending more time with family.

“People ask what you are going to do. I have a quilt that is not finished on the back. I have pictures I have never been able to go through, painting that needs to be done in my house.”

Still “I feel like I am blessed to be able to do Agape,” she said.

For help

If you need help finding health care services because Agape Care Team Health Services is closing, call Connie Cato, 815-438-3080.

Call the Whiteside County Health Department at 815-772-7411.

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