Children’s Clinic bids farewell to ‘compassionate’ physician

Dr. Karen Walker has been with the Infant Welfare Society for over 30 years

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017 1:54 PM

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Dr. Karen Walker, 65, has been busy seeing some of her last appointments at the Oak Park-River Forest Infant Welfare Society Children’s Clinic, 320 Lake St. The clinic provides dental and medical treatment, along with behavioral services, to area children from low-income families. 

Faced with a growing population of clients and increasingly unstable federal and state funding scenarios, the IWS is switching to what its executive director, Peggy LaFleur, described as a more efficient model of care that relies on nurse practitioners and physician extenders rather than physicians. 

“This is a very difficult time for health care,” LeFleur said in a recent phone interview. “We’re getting less funding than we used to.” 

Nonprofits all over Illinois, she said, are being squeezed as many state and federal funding sources are either eliminated altogether or spread much thinner, with some who support the welfare society also attempting to prop up other organizations whose funds have completely disappeared.

The precarious financial environment means being forced to part ways with someone who LeFleur described as the embodiment of the welfare society’s commitment to helping the underserved.

“Dr. Walker has been our longest standing medical provider,” LeFleur said. “She’s compassionate, a very good clinician and deeply committed to her patients.” 

In an interview last week, Walker said she’ll start seeing patients at her own private practice from now on — quite a transition, considering she’s been practicing part-time at the Children’s Clinic for more than 30 years. 

“I had started a pediatric practice in Oak Park and just needed to supplement my income a little bit,” Walker said. “So I answered an ad in one of the medical journals about the Children’s Clinic.” 

As her private practice grew, she said, it became more difficult to service patients on public aid or who were paying out of pocket. Eventually, she started seeing many of those patients at the clinic.

“The Children’s Clinic gave me a chance to service a lot of my patients because I’d say to them, ‘Yeah, you can keep seeing me, we just have to go to the clinic.’ I’ve always been into community medicine. The clinic gave me the opportunity to serve both worlds.” 

LeFleur said that roughly 25 percent of the clinic’s patients come from Oak Park. Around 1,000 come from Austin. Other community areas with heavy representation include Cicero, Berwyn and Melrose Park. Around half of the clinic’s patients are Hispanic while African Americans represent about 30 percent of the clinic’s clientele. 

Arbutus Winfrey said all three of her children and both of her godchildren have had Walker as their primary care physician. 

“I’m trying to see if her clinic takes my son’s medical coverage,” Winfrey said. “If so, we’ll be following her there. He’s had Dr. Walker since he was born. He’s 16 years old.”

LeFleur attributed Walker’s magnetism to the fact that she puts her patients before herself. 

“We don’t make money in anything we do and we really have to be as efficient as possible,” LeFleur said, adding that Walker, in the same spirit, has passed up more lucrative opportunities elsewhere in order to deliver high-quality medical care to generations of children. 

“At the clinic, we sacrifice,” LeFleur said. 


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