Two Humboldt Park healthcare providers at loggerheads over federally funded physician training program


Jose Sanchez and Milly Santiago

A federally funded Health Resources and Services Administration's (HRSA) annual $3.5 million Teaching Health Center (THC) grant began in 2010.

It funded a "partnership" program Family Medicine Residency in the Humboldt Park area. After five successful years, two partners have decided that the third is to be replaced. 

Those involved are Humboldt Park healthcare service providers Erie Family Health Center (EFH) and Norwegian American (NAH) and the third is Northwestern Memorial HealthCare (NMH), from Chicago's gold coast. Under the grant, EFH is the health center that receives the money, NMH is the academic component while NAH is the hospital which has the residents. Patients have come from both EFH and NAH. 

While Dean Harrison, President and Chief Executive Officer, Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, did not return our attempts to communicate, it is presumed that together, NMH and EFH made the decision to replace NAH with Swedish Covenant Hospital, located in the Lincoln Square area. 

According to Dr. Lee Francis, EFH's President and Chief Executive Officer, "After a complete review of the program, it was determined that in the best long term interest of the program's sustainability, the hospital component should be moved to Swedish Covenant."  

THC Grant and the Family Medicine Residency success
The THC grant intent is to "increase access to health care services for people who are geographically isolated economically or medically vulnerable." The program was starting as Affordable Care Act began in approximately 2010. And, the goal was to increase numbers of primary physicians serving under-served communities. 

Complete success is the description for the Family Medicine Residency program that trained 24 residencies in the three-way "partnership." 

Success was determined in several ways. It provided young doctors the opportunity to be trained in the increasingly popular clinic setting in the under-served community of Humboldt Park, where there was also an under-supply of doctors.  

The residencies resulted in many physicians staying in the community at a clinic or hospital after the residency. According to Francis, more than five stayed with Erie and others went to other locations including one who went to serve an international community. Norwegian reported that they gained five new physicians. 

Having a teaching program in a hospital good for the medical staff, explained Norwegian's Jose Sanchez, President and Chief Executive Officer. "Doctors love to teach, it enlivens staff." 

Partnership Inequities
While complete financials are not available, more than $15 million came through the grant to Erie. Of that, Norwegian reports, the amount they received of the $15 million is approximately $80,000 while they expended more than $1.5 million. Erie and Northwestern appear to have split the remainder almost evenly. 

Francis said that Erie provided the training and that any Norwegian expenses were "inkind." However, Norwegian states that, in the contract before the grant funds were guaranteed to be provided, Norwegian aid that they would cover any financial program shortfall and provide $100,000 per year to Erie for "community benefit." It did not say that they would not be reimbursed for their expenses.

When the residencies began, explained Sanchez, Norwegian was told that they didn't have money for malpractice insurance. So, NAH covered that as well as providing facility space which included a lounge that was renovated for the residents as well as a library, compensating faculty as well as paying for food. 

According to Sanchez, he, over the years, repeatedly requested that the program monies be spent equitably among the "partners." However at one lunch, Northwestern's Harrison told Sanchez, "You are not my partner. If you want the residency program, you have to pay for it." 


Among those at the meeting are: Billy Ocasio, NAH Brd Chrmn; Wilfredo de Jesus, New Life Covenent Minis.; Veronica Ocasio, New Life Covenant Church; David Hernandez, NAH Brd.; and Roberto Maldonado

NAH special meeting
A special meeting was called by Sanchez as a result of being given a letter on Mar. 29. The letter stated that Norwegian was no longer to be part of the program. 

Several community leaders and local officials attended the meeting, which covered the above information. Sanchez asked what they felt the next steps should be. 

Sanchez had reached out to elected officials, prior to receiving the Mar. 29 letter, and asked for their help in trying to talk with Northwestern and Erie. US Representative Luis Gutierrez; Illinois State Representative, 4th District, Cynthia Soto; and 31st Ward Alderman Milly Santiago all sent letters in support of the program. 

At the Mar. 30 meeting, 26th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonado, said that he was going to try to set up a meeting next week with the "partners" and have the other community members present at that meeting. 

The program move to Swedish Covenant
According to Francis, the Erie Humboldt Park clinic will continue to be where the program will operate. However, there is nothing in the grant that specifies service delivery location. Erie started the Erie Foster Avenue Health Center at Swedish Covenant. 

Norwegian American was founded in 1894 and is a 200-bed facility with 850 to 900 employees, half of whom live in the area.  

The serve a predominantly minority community with significant chronic health disparities and socioeconomic challenges. The unemployment rate is 12% and 34% of the population live below the federal poverty level. Neighborhood residents experience significant chronic health disparities – fully 12% of adults have diabetes, compared to a national benchmark of 8%, and 36% of adults are obese, compared to a national benchmark of 28%. 

They are located in Humboldt Park, 1044 N. Francisco. 

Swedish Covenant was founded in 1886 and is a 334-bed medical center serving the north and northwest side of Chicago. Of their 2,500 employees, 50% live within five miles of the hospital. 

"The hospital is dedicated to serving the physical, spiritual and psychological needs of our culturally diverse communities. Swedish Covenant Hospital is committed to caring for patients as whole persons in their uniqueness through an atmosphere of professional excellence and human kindness," according to their website. 

They are located at 5145 N California Ave. in the Lincoln Square area.




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