A steady doctor for babies to call their own

Inside a converted fruit warehouse near the Grand River in Grand Rapids sit several specialists on the front lines of ensuring that young children get a healthy start in life. 

They work for Health Net of West Michigan, a nonprofit community healthcare hub that connects families with doctors and other community services in the Grand Rapids area. One of Health Net's primary tasks seems simple at first glance - making sure low-income children have a primary care physician.

But connecting kids and doctors is a cutting-edge effort in the fight to support the state's most vulnerable children from birth to 3 years old, who are in danger of falling behind their peers before they reach kindergarten.

Having a doctor is something many Americans take for granted. But Michigan has an estimated 84,000 children aged 3 and younger who do not have a primary care physician, which means when they come down with a bad cough, high fever or worse, their parents or caregivers take them to a crowded urgent-care facility or a busy hospital emergency room, where they wait while medical personnel tend to patients with more critical issues.

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