Health Leads ends partnership with clinic, loses funding

Health Leads maintains RSO status at University.

By Wendy Lee

Starting this year, Health Leads will no longer have an active Chicago branch due to a recent end in partnership with the Chicago Family Health Center.

Health Leads is a national nonprofit dedicated to connecting people with basic resources, such as food, housing, and child support. Acquiring RSO status in 2006, the organization combines medical care with social work by mobilizing college students to engage with clients in healthcare settings. During their time on campus, volunteers largely worked in South Chicago and in Chicago Lawn.

Though student volunteers carry out a majority of the organization’s operations, the national nonprofit organization still provides program managers and advocate coordinators at each clinic. Both the national organization and the clinics, which are supported by the state government and through grants, fund these staff members. The national organization also provides students with a database of resources, tech support, and training. Starting this year, however, the Chicago Family Health Center decided to remove Health Leads from its budget and disestablish its partnership with the national organization. The move was financially motivated, and the Health Leads workers were effectively replaced by the clinic’s own coordinated care employees.

According to Nick Antos, the third-year Campus Coordinator for Health Leads, the Chicago branch has operated in the Chicago Family Health Center since 2010. Antos handled member recruitment, weekly meetings, and events. For him, Health Leads was about more than medical care; it was about addressing the needs of the community.

“We would do a basic needs assessment for clients to figure out what their non-medical needs were, [because] Health Leads’ mission was to build a healthcare system that addresses patient resource needs; things that doctors couldn’t access. We would refer resources to clients and, within the next week, follow up and see whether or not they connected with those resources. That was what was so unique about our model: we would do follow-ups like case managers,” said Antos. “Each of us would hold about six to eight clients… and work in the health center for four hours a week.”

Because it is difficult to establish a new partnership with a different clinic, it is unlikely that the Chicago branch will continue to operate with the support of the national organization. However, since the RSO submitted its budget before the announcement was made, it maintains its status and University funding despite being inactive.

“This [end in partnership] was very surprising—we found out in mid-July,” said Antos. “While Health Leads as a national organization is still doing great, it’s not easy to become integrated into a new healthcare system. [As an RSO], we have been advised to change our focus rather than to disband completely. There might be someone else in Health Leads who wants to do something else. It’s unclear what will happen to the RSO.”

Both Antos and Valerie Gutmann, a second-year who worked with Health Leads last year, note that joining the RSO changed the way they view healthcare.

“Healthcare should be more than about diseases,” said Gutmann. “There are a lot of things that affect people’s health that can’t be ‘prescribed’ in terms of medication… A lot of our [current] healthcare system is really focused on addressing problems once they have already affected your quality of life, like helping people after they have already hit the edge of the cliff rather than putting up a fence so they never get to the edge of the cliff in the first place.”

Antos reflected positively on his experience with Health Leads.

“You realize that patients have so many things going on in their lives…so many things impact their health [and] their capability of being healthy—and doctors only touch a small portion of it.”