After 10 years of leadership at Howard Brown Health, President and CEO David Ernesto Munar has decided to step down from his post on Feb. 29.
Munar, who'd previously been president and CEO of AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC), took the reins at Howard Brown in 2014, after a long period of turmoil at the organization. He oversaw its subsequent designation as a Federally Qualified Health Center, allowing it to access new funding sources, as well as its ambitious expansion across the city.
In an internal message to all Howard Brown employees that was released to Windy City Times, Munar said, "It has been the honor of my life to lead an organization that has meant so much to me, my family and the LGBTQ+ community, especially those of us affected by HIV. LGBTQ+ people continue to struggle with persistent and intersectional trauma, stigma, discrimination and inequities in Chicago and across the nation. … Howard Brown's rapid expansion over the past 10 years is a testament to the urgent needs we face as a community."
Munar received a positive HIV diagnosis in 1994 at Howard Brown, where he had recently become a patient. In the ensuing years, Munar supported Howard Brown as an institutional partner and funder while in leadership roles at AFC. When Munar came to Howard Brown as president and CEO in 2014, there were three locations in Uptown and Lakeview that served less than 8,000 patients. Over the next ten years, Munar grew the organization into a $200 million operation serving over 38,000 patients with comprehensive and affirming care at 10 locations across Chicago.
Among Munar's other achievements were expanding Howard Brown's footprint in Chicago to include the South and Northwest sides of the city; innovative community care initiatives during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic; Broadway Youth Center's first permanent home; migrating Howard Brown records to the electronic health record platform Epic; and the recent opening of the organization's anchor location on Halsted Street.
"Howard Brown is distinguished among healthcare systems in providing dignifying, affirming and culturally competent healthcare by and for our community," Munar said. "I am proud to have played a part in shepherding Howard Brown's growth to meet these needs and secure the agency to serve the community for decades to come. According to our patients, Howard Brown is providing higher quality care than ever before. This is a direct result of our entire staff's commitment to serving our community."
Munar's tenure has not been without strife, however. His exit comes after contentious disagreements with non-nurses HBH Workers United union members (represented by the Illinois Nurses Association) over a number of issues. These disagreements have led to multiple short strike actions and protests outside of every Howard Brown and Brown Elephant location. Currently, HBH Workers United and Howard Brown Health leadership have not agreed on a contract.
In an email statement to Windy City Times, HBH Workers United member and Howard Brown Health employee Derrick Alexander said on behalf of the union, "Our union is disappointed David Munar is leaving without seeing the process through in getting our first contract. There are also 61 workers still awaiting backpay from David's decision to lay them off over a year ago. It is our hope that his departure will create an opportunity for new management to negotiate in good faith and settle a fair contract with their unionized workforce"
Howard Brown Health Board Chair Mike Mazzeo, in an email statement, nevertheless praised Munar "for his leadership and vision this past decade as Howard Brown Health has grown to meet the needs of our community. The board has begun a comprehensive process of identifying interim and permanent leadership for Howard Brown. This process will engage internal stakeholders and incorporate the perspectives of the broader community. In the meantime, our staff members will continue to ensure that patients across the city receive the culturally competent, affirming care they expect from us."