Tazewell County residents who need medical care often find themselves out of luck when in need of a doctor — especially if they are on Medicaid, Medicare or without any medical insurance, according to the Tazewell County Health Department.

But a new clinic coming to Pekin may soon help carry the load, which is so bad that, at times, people wait for weeks or months to get in to see a doctor, overloaded with patients.

“I can tell you that the poverty level in Tazewell County has increased from previous years,” said Azza Mohammed, TCHD epidemiologist. “We have a shortage of health care providers in Tazewell County and in the area in general.”

The ratio patients to primary care doctors in Tazewell County in 2017 is 2,150-to-1. Mohammed said the numbers nationwide and in the state are not great, but Tazewell County ranks lower. Nationwide the ratio is 1,040-to-1. In Illinois, the number is 1,240-to-1. The poverty level in Tazewell County in 2010 was 7.9 percent. By 2014, it was 9.3 percent. Mohammed said it continues to rise, as is evidenced by school free lunch program numbers. For example, Pekin District 108 has a 60 percent poverty level and Pekin District 303 has a 43.4 poverty level, according to the district’s school report cards.

In recent months, new health care options have opened in Pekin to serve the surrounding area. OSF HealthCare Center for Health opened in April at East Court Village. The facility offers primary care, pediatrics and obstetrics. It has a lab and X-ray facility. Other services will follow based on demand.

Heartland Health Services announced this week that it will open a new clinic at East Court Village. Dr. Douglas Harrington, an OBGYN with more than 30 years in the Pekin area, is joining Heartland to expand the not-for-profit health care organization’s offerings for women starting July 31. Harrington will continue to work out of his office at 2709 Broadway Road in Pekin. His affiliation with Heartland will not impact his current patients in any way, said Jamie Messmore, Heartland vice president of marketing.

The East Court Village location is under construction and will open in August. It will offer pediatric services and women’s services at this time.

Heartland Health Services was formerly Heartland Community Health Clinic and originated 25 years ago. It is funded through donations, reimbursements from Medicaid and Medicare and grants.

The pediatrician who will work the clinic is doing a rotation at Mayo Clinic and will come to Pekin soon. A midwife will also be a part of the staff.

Heartland is a Federally Qualified Health Center with five locations in Peoria. Heartland provides its patients with transportation assistance, translation services, enrollment/insurance assistance, and primary care provider options, including pediatrics. The enrollment/insurance assistance is open to anyone.

Mohammed said Heartland’s decision to open offices in Tazewell County is very important because it will decrease the ratio of doctors to patients.

“Some of these communities already don’t have a lot of different providers and hospitals or some sort of health care system in their area,” she said. “So this move will affect them for sure.

“One of the things that we don’t know for sure right now has to do with insurance, with the instability of the health care plan. We don’t know if (the latest health care plan) is going to pass or not. It might affect more people, with more people maybe losing their insurance and more restricted to access to health care. If that happens, that might even worsen the problem especially for poor people and disadvantaged.”

Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin