Chicago Community Partners Come Together to Save Their SBHCs from Closing

By Serina Reckling, Policy Analyst, School-Based Health Alliance

We at the School-Based Health Alliance routinely preach the importance of strong partnerships between schools and communities to ensure the long-term sustainability of a school-based health center (SBHC) program. On a recent visit to Chicago, I witnessed first-hand just how critical influential and well-established community partners can be in supporting SBHCs. Two SBHCs in Chicago schools—Marquette and Perspectives Calumet Middle Academy—were on the brink of closing. Here’s their story.

The SBHCs were established from the Elev8 community schools initiative, funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies (AP). Coordinated by LISC Chicago, Elev8 is a full-service community school model that offers out-of-school learning programs, SBHCs, parent engagement programs, and student and family support services to middle-grade youth in low-income areas. What makes these two schools unique is the powerful (and protective) partnership they have developed with community development organizations. The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) and Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GADC) have long histories and deep roots; their commitment to improving life and building healthy and safe neighborhoods for their families makes their support of community schools a natural fit.

In 2007, these schools and community partners each chose the same Federally-Qualified Health Center (FQHC) as the medical sponsor for their SBHCs. Four years later the community partners received devastating news: the FQHC decided that school-based health care, though important, no longer aligned with its mission and vision. It would be closing all of its SBHCs immediately.

“When we received the news that our SBHCs were losing their medical sponsor, we immediately knew our first task was to make sure that services didn’t drop,” says Carlos Nelson, Executive Directors of Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation. “Jeff Bartow (Executive Director of Southwest Organizing Project) and I brought together key stakeholders including the schools and district officials, the Chicago Department of Public Health, the Illinois Department of Human Services, and members of the community. Our first action item was to draft and send an official request to the FQHC’s CEO asking that they continue offering services until new sponsors were found. Fortunately the CEO agreed to our request. Second, we developed a plan for finding a new sponsoring agency.”

“As a group, we reflected on our collective SBHC experience, examining what we know works and what hasn’t, and made a list of the attributes, such key leadership support and having good reputation in the community, that were critical for any new sponsoring agency to have,” says Megan Erskine from Chicago Public Schools. “Then we brainstormed potential FQHCs and interviewed their CEOs to determine interest. We invited all of our partners to participate in a series of discovery meetings with the CEOs to determine if they met our sponsor criteria.”

After months of searching and due diligence, Marquette SBHC and Perspectives Calumet Middle Academy SBHC successfully partnered with two new medical sponsors: Esperanza Community Health Center and the University of Illinois, Office of Community Engagement and Neighborhood Health Partnerships Chicago, respectively.

As a result of the school’s committed community partners, the transition in sponsorship was seamless. Students, unaffected by the change in health center sponsorship, are benefiting now more than ever from the services being offered through their new medical partners. In fact, Marquette Esperanza SBHC recently celebrated a record-breaking 4,000 visits last year.

Additional Resources:

What are the critical attributes of a high-value medical sponsor? The SBHC Sponsorship Fact Sheet answers that question and gives examples of the most common SBHC sponsor types. Visit our Sustainability Infographic for more tools and resources on developing strong partnerships.

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