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6.11.20 – Club News

Club News written by Tom Mathison

The Rotary Club of Downtown Grand Rapids gathered at noon at the University Club for its first in-person, socially-distanced meeting since the start of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order in March.  It was also combined with a virtual meeting format to allow remote members to join the meeting. President Neil Marchand called this meeting to order at noon by welcoming everyone and announcing the line-up of events and future speakers for the Club:

  • June 18th – Paul Doyle, Founder and CEO, Inclusive Performance Strategies (please RSVP to Dawn by Monday, June 15 for in-person attendance)
  • June 25th – Passing of the Tiller – Neil Marchand to Jon Hankins (please RSVP to Dawn by Monday, June 22 for in-person attendance)
  • July 2nd – No luncheon – 4th of July

For the opening song, President Neil led us in the recitation of the 4-way test (we don’t want to sing for a while, since singing spreads droplets a long way), followed by the invocation by Jeff Rogers.

Following lunch, Neil recognized June birthdays and June membership anniversaries for Club members, as well as the Rotary Foundation Appeal (forms are available at the registration table) He also said that the Club had contributed $13,500 to local non-profits and a donation to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum Book collection since mid-March until now.

Neil said there were no guests or visitors present in person today, so he invited Jackie Taylor to introduce our guest speaker, Tasha Blackmon, CEO of Cherry Health, based in Grand Rapids.Jackie introduced Tasha as an “outstanding leader” with a dedication to her staff, patients, and clients.  Tasha brings leadership with love, caring, and empathy, with the ability to change the world.  Tasha became the CEO of Cherry Health 2 years ago, and she has visited all 20 sites of Cherry Health, learning by listening.  Tasha is a “leader, listener, and a change agent!”

Tasha began her remarks by talking about her childhood, as one of three children to young parents.  She was brought up in faith, with a priority on education.  She graduated from Ottawa Hills High School and set a track record in 1988 in the 3,200 meter relay that still holds today. After graduation she was at Michigan State University for her college years and worked at MSU for 10 years.  At that point, she wanted to seek a position that was in alignment with her personal values – something in community health.

From the Cherry Health web site:

Cherry Health is an independent, non-profit Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) with a primary focus of providing high quality health services to those who have little or no access to health care, regardless of income or insurance status. Services provided by Cherry Health include primary care, women’s health, pediatrics, dental, vision, behavioral health, mental health, correctional health, five school based health centers and employee assistance for employers. Cherry Health provides services to all individuals, and a sliding fee payment scale based on income and family size is available to those with or without insurance. Medicaid and Healthy Michigan are accepted, as are many other insurances.

Established in 1988, Cherry Health is the largest FQHC in the State of Michigan serving Barry, Eaton, Kent, Montcalm, Muskegon, Ottawa and Wayne counties. Providing integrated health care services at more than 20 locations throughout Michigan, Cherry Health employs approximately 900 employees and a network of over 60 physicians and mid-level providers specializing in primary care/family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, optometry, oral health, behavioral health and substance use disorders. Additionally, Cherry Health runs a school linked program active in 70 public schools offering both vision and dental care.

Our Mission: Cherry Health improves the health and wellness of individuals by providing comprehensive primary and behavioral health care while encouraging access by those who are underserved.  Cherry Health complies with applicable Federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, sex, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation. Cherry Health does not exclude people or treat them differently because of race, color, national origin, age, sex, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation.

Tasha noted that 51% of the operational Board of Directors of Cherry Health must be patients.  96% of the patients fall below 200% of the poverty line for a family of four, which is $49,000.  82% fall below 100% for a family of four, which is $25,000.

In the last 90 days, Cherry Health has been working on the pandemic response is in several ways:

.              Enhanced communications

.              Consolidated site and hours

.              Voluntary / mandatory lay-offs for about 25% of the staff

.              Voluntary salary reductions for the executive team

.              Provision of a telehealth platform

.              COVID testing

.              Dealing with supply-chain challenges

.              Participation in the Itraconazole trial for patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms

Community health centers were born during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.  Currently 52%

of patients are of color.  Services are provided in three primary buckets:

  1. Chronic disease, particularly for hypertension, has been reduced by 20% in the last two years


  1. Services to infants, women, and children, where breast-feeding has improved by 75% in two years. Tests have shown that babies who are breast-fed have improved test scores in school.


  1. Substance abuse, where treatment results have improved by 53% in the last two years.

Following warm applause and a brief time of Q and A, President Neil presented Tasha with a certificate saying that a water filter has been donated in her name to a family in Nicaragua.  He then rang the Rotary bell to adjourn the meeting.

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