After a particularly rocky period with the controversial Jamal Edwards at its head, Howard Brown Health Center (HBHC) seemed poised, if somewhat uneasily, to transition into a new period towards the end of 2012. After nearly a year, questions remain as projects have stalled and a new, permanent CEO has yet to be announced.
Karma Israelsen, then-board chair, replaced Edwards in September but in an interim position. She promised a change in leadership and management style at an organization that has seen both growth and controversy since its founding in 1974.
In two separate interviews with Windy City Times (WCT), one in October 2012 and another in May of this year, Israelsen effectively promised a new era at the organization. She said that a new president and CEO would be chosen after a nationwide search.
To that end, the recruitment firm of Kittleman & Associates, specializing in the non-profit industry, was chosen to find the next CEO.
But in the meantime, other projects were stalling. HBHC decided that its Triad location would be renamed Aris Health and move to a larger and more ambitious space, to accommodate more pediatric care and other needs of a changing clientelle. A March 25, 2013 opening date was announced with much fanfare, but a press released a week prior announced a postponement.
Speaking to WCT in May, Israelsen said that the postponement was both "unfortunate" and "embarrassing," and that it was due to HBHC not having sufficiently calculated how long major upgrades, permits and renovations would take.
Triad moved to a smaller space in the same building at Illinois Masonic in May, at which point HBHC also had to pay double the rent of its previous location. Rent is currently at $17,000. This would presumably be on top of the money paid to maintain the new space during reconstruction; details on that were not available at press time.
At the same time, she said, HBHC was engaging in the CEO search and was also undergoing an intensive period of strategic planning to be laid in place before the next CEO took over.
At the time, the new CEO was supposed to have taken over by "late summer," according to Israelsen. To date, no one has been announced.
WCT contacted Howard Brown for an interview with Karma Israelsen and Duke Alden, board chair. Only Alden agreed to an interview as of the press deadline.
Alden said that the delay was due to HBHC having entered into talks with another healthcare center, which he would not name, citing legal reasons. He said, "We did take a bit of a pause in our leadership search because Howard Brown was exploring opportunities" and "we thought it best to not hire a CEO immediately."
According to Alden, the process put the search in a "holding pattern for a series of months, from March to late July," and that both HBHC and the other center have decided to not pursue a "really deep collaboration" at this time. At this point, a partnership would be "programmatic," but not a "long-term alliance." He said that details would be forthcoming in the next few weeks.
As a result, the new CEO is expected to be in place at the end of a three-to-four month process, sometime "before the end of 2013."
Meanwhile, Israelsen remains employed at an annual salary of $180,000, on a month-to-month basis, giving her a monthly salary of $15,000.
While not as high as that Edwards' annual salary of $265,000, Israelsen is herself a controversial choice because she brings no healthcare experience to the position and because her investiture echoes that of Edwards. The former CEO had no healthcare experience and was perceived as having worked his way into the position by strategically bouncing to it from his original capacity as counsel to the board.
Alden said that the Aris space is expected to have a soft launch in early September.
At issue also for many is the ongoing shifting location of the Broadway Youth Center (BYC). It has now moved twice, most recently to Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ, 615 W. Wellington Ave.
However, even that relocation only takes it through another year.
Asked about BYC, Alden said that the difficulty with the facility was finding a space that could accommodate all its clients' needs, and be both central and safe for them to come to. BYC was finding a space that could be both central and safe, given the clients' needs.
In another update, Howard Brown had taken the vast majority of its Brown Elephant employees off healthcare by reducing them to part-time hours. Responding to an email follow-up question, communications manager David Dodd said that "Howard Brown Health Center has 19 full-time employees at the Brown Elephant, including exempt managers, out of a total of about 60 associates. All full-time employees are eligible to participate in the HBHC health plan. In addition, all employees, full-time and part-time, can receive four free primary-care visits a year at any HBHC facility."