Howard Brown Health Center ( HBHC ) has been embroiled in controversy since the early part of this year, when both CEO Michael Cook and CFOMark Joslyn were put on administrative leave. Following the ensuing scandal, HBHC hired Jamal Edwards, formerly of the law firm of Kirkland and Ellis, as its CEO; he began his tenure June 1 and promised several changes to the organization.
Windy City Times recently learned that among these are several changes in personnel, including the departure of Paul Fairchild, who was director of development and then interim chief operating officer while the board looked for a replacement for Cook. Also gone is Hope Barrett, director of elder services. The changes appeared to come some time after the end of the fiscal year, June 30, raising the question of why these changes came about if they were unrelated to budgetary concerns. We contacted Jamal Edwards to confirm the story.
Edwards said he could not provide names and other details because the changes were a personnel matter and it would be "improper" to discuss them. He also said that some of the changes were voluntary, as in the case of Paul Fairchild who left HBHC to pursue other opportunities. ( Edwards said he could share this because his understanding was that Fairchild was open about it. ) .. Other changes came about due to attrition, performance evaluation, and/or the need to make financial decisions "in a difficult economic climate." According to him, the changes represent "a 9 percent decrease in overall personnel expenses." He could not provide exact numbers, but said that they amounted to "less than 10 in a staff of 200." Edwards clarified the key issue regarding the nature of these changes, saying that they were in fact related to the budget. According to him, the board had extended the financial year deadline by a month, to July 31, in light of the major change in leadership when he came on board. The changes were announced last week to the staff.
Edwards did respond with details to the names we asked about. Regina Kim is no longer an attending physician at HBHC; Edwards said that she had moved on voluntarily to pursue her specialization in pregnancy and childbirth. Barrett, according to Edwards, is joining the Center on Halsted to continue her work with seniors. Her arrival there comes in the wake of the departure of Serena Worthington, the former senior director of public programs for Center on Halsted and who recently accepted a new position as a national advocate for LGBT seniors with Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders ( SAGE ) . Edwards said that Barrett would be part of a collaborative project with the Center in an attempt to address the issues facing LGBT seniors.
Windy City Times spoke with Barrett, and she confirmed that she would be joining the Center as senior director of public programming, a position which oversees the senior services at the organization, and that she was "excited about the new opportunities." Had the Center reached out to her or had she sought them out? Barrett said it was a little bit of both. What would the collaborative work with the Center look like, especially given that the two agencies are in many ways competing for the same kinds of funding, from donors and state and federal dollars? Barrett admitted that there is no formal collaboration in place yet, but that the two organizations were talking about future plans. Part of the rationale, according to her, is that they ought not to replicate work. While HBHC provides medical and mental health care, the Center is able to provide social services. Barrett said that she wanted to develop ways in which the Center reached out to LGBT seniors where they are, in their homes and communities, and not simply expect them to come to the Center for assistance.
Asked if any of these changes had anything to do with the loss of the MACS grant ( the alleged mismanagement of its funds is, so far, said to be the cause of the changes in HBHC's structure ) , Edwards was emphatic that this was not the case. He said that HBHC had completed its review of the situation and sent that to the National Institutes of Health last week. Summarizing the recent changes, Edwards said non-profits like HBHC, faced with the current economic climate, had to see how they could either/and increase revenue and control expenses.
He emphasized that leadership at HBHC was committed to transparency to its staff and the larger community, saying that he understood that both were understandably "anxious" about the changes and that there was a need to "restore faith and confidence" in the organization. With that in mind, HBHC will be announcing community open houses on its website and these will begin in October. Addressing the issue of communications with the community, Edwards said he wanted to be clear that the goal has "not been to keep secrets, but to ensure that we are headed in the right direction and to have a conversation with the staff first" before opening up matters to the public. In the meantime, the executive leadership team of HBHC has been working on "identifying what the problem areas are, balancing the budget and developing a strategic plan" in an effort to create a sustainable organization.
Edwards also spoke of a significant change in the way HBHC would seek funding, saying that the goal was for it to become a fully federally funded health center. According to him, there are many advantages to this, including being able to assist people who have no insurance ( currently, they have a waiting list for uninsured people and they have to write them off as charity care ) .
As a major healthcare provider to the LGBT community, HBHC will undoubtedly face more scrutiny in the coming months if and as it opens up to a community that has been anxiously following its news. These most recent changes signal both leadership changes and, perhaps, significant structural changes that will literally and metaphorically affect the health and well-being of Chicago's LGBTQ community. We will continue to follow this story.