‘He always, always had my back’: How IFF partnered with Heartland Alliance to open a specialized health care facility on Chicago’s south side

‘He always, always had my back’: How IFF partnered with Heartland Alliance to open a specialized health care facility on Chicago’s south side

People experiencing homelessness have unique health care needs – from safe and reliable sources of food and shelter to treatment for the chronic illness, mental illness, or substance abuse that can be the main drivers of their homelessness. That’s why long-time nonprofit health care provider Heartland Alliance Health (HAH)decided to open a Federally Qualified Health Care (FQHC) facility specializing in care for people experiencing homelessness. It is the only such specialized facility in Chicago, and one of only 300 nationally.

“Think about it this way: How would you prepare for a colonoscopy if you were homeless or even living in a shelter?” said Mary Kay Gilbert, Chief Business Officer at HAH. “With the Affordable Care Act, many more people have access to preventative care – but for people experiencing homelessness, we need to be proactive about figuring out how to really help them prevent health problems.”

While the new health center specializes in care for people experiencing homelessness, its integrated approach to health care is available to all people. That includes primary medical care, behavioral health care, substance abuse treatment, and chronic disease treatment, as well as assistance with insurance, housing, and food.

“The Heartland Alliance organization that we are a part of tends to tackle some of the most difficult problems – poverty, violence, homelessness to name a few. Our goal is not just to deliver health care, but to change health care so it works for everyone,” Gilbert says.

IFF provided both financing and real estate consulting to build out the project, a 7,900-square-foot health center complete with 10 exam rooms, four therapy rooms, onsite lab, onsite pharmacy, and showers and laundry facilities. According to HAH’s Gilbert, the process was not without challenges.

“The average nonprofit does not have real estate people, facilities people, or construction people. You really need that kind of advice and expertise to help you navigate,” Gilbert said. “The work we do is often in communities that have experienced disinvestment, and it’s hard to even find a building that doesn’t need extensive repairs. I wish we had brought on IFF even sooner in our process.”

IFF Senior Owners Representative Dominic LoGalbo worked with HAH’s team to find the building, select the contractor, and oversee the design and construction.

“There were a couple times when Dominic had to bring me bad news, but he always, always had my back,” Gilbert said. “He would spend hours with me preparing for meetings with our supporters so we could anticipate questions and be totally transparent. Most people wouldn’t expect their construction manager to do that for them. He was truly there every step of the way.”

This wasn’t the first time IFF was there for the Heartland Alliance organization. Since 1997, IFF has provided seven loans totaling more than $3.5 million to HAH and its affiliates. This was the first time IFF provided real estate consulting.

Says IFF’s LoGalbo: “This wasn’t just a renovation; it was a resurrection. We brought a century-old building back to life. It took a truly collaborative approach from the entire team – personal drive and leadership from Mary Kay, corporate courage from Heartland Alliance Health to tackle a project of this size, amazing work and flexibility from our architect and contractor, and patience and input from the Englewood community.”

According to Gilbert, HAH leadership spent more than a year building relationships with key stakeholders and community members in Englewood to learn from the community what they wanted and needed in a health care center.

“We did not want to presume we knew what the community needed. In our planning and building process, we met many amazing, resilient, talented people who wanted the best for their community and their families,” Gilbert said. “We couldn’t be more pleased to say that our future includes the south side of Chicago.”

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