Aunt Martha’s Stands Against All Forms of Racial and Social Injustice
A Statement from Raul Garza, President and CEO
June 17, 2021
Today, President Biden took the historic step of signing into law legislation to create a federal holiday to commemorate Juneteenth, the day marking the end of slavery in Texas, and celebrated as the end of slavery in the United States. It is a date that is perhaps a more important milestone in our country’s history than July 4, 1776. Yet it took nothing less than the summer of 2020, the tragedy of George Floyd’s murder and the social uprisings that followed, to bring renewed attention to a day that is at once a celebration of freedom and hope, as well as a reminder that we are called to make better the society we inherit from our mothers and our fathers.
This weekend – Juneteenth on Saturday and Father’s Day on Sunday – gives each of us reason to pause, to remember and to reflect on the experiences of our fathers and our forefathers. It is an opportunity to look at ourselves, to consider the contribution we wish to make and the wrongs we choose to right. It is an opportunity to look to the future, our children’s futures, and to the future we chose to create for racial justice and equity. And it is an opportunity to make a commitment to not only sharing the invaluable lessons of the past, but also to giving just due to the people and events that shape how we view ourselves and the world around us. That is what Audrey Pennington’s teenage son, Brent, set out to do with two of his classmates. Their documentary film – “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”: The Media’s Misrepresentation of the Black Panther Party – was produced as part of National History Day competition and after winning at the state-level is now available online as part of the 2021 Student Documentary Showcase at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. We are proud to share his achievement.
We are also proud to share our support, passion and pursuit of racial equity and social justice with every member of the communities we serve, with those who share our commitment and, more importantly, with those who do not yet share our commitment. The public efforts we have made the past year – from challenging a managed care organization to standing up for the civil rights of DCFS youth in care – will continue. So too will our effort to promote a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion in our own organization. As I have written on several occasions, this work demands the full engagement of every employee. That is both our goal and our expectation.
Whether you are reflecting, learning, celebrating or taking action, make the most of the opportunities this weekend offers. Have a happy Juneteenth and a happy Father’s Day. Please enjoy the weekend safely.
A Statement from Raul Garza, President and CEO
May 13, 2021
This week, Aunt Martha’s was the subject of an Operational Site Visit (OSV) conducted by a team of reviewers from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the primary federal funder of our health care services. These visits provide an objective assessment and verification of the status of each Health Center Program awardee or look-alike’s compliance with the statutory and regulatory requirements of the Health Center Program.
The results of the OSV, Aunt Martha’s first since 2017, were presented to members of our board of directors, our executive and health leadership teams during our closing session with the reviewers this morning. In all, 22 areas of our Health Division’s administrative and operational policies, procedures and practices were reviewed against 95 distinct elements of compliance. The review team shared that the average community health center comes away from an OSV with about 7 findings or requirements for improvement. Four years ago, our OSV resulted in 5 findings. I am pleased and proud to report that the OSV conducted this week concluded with a preliminary report of only 3 findings – a 97% compliance rate.
All three of the findings can be at least partially attributed to the subjectivity with which the reviewers interpret standards and assess our compliance with those standards. Two of the three can be quickly and easily addressed, bringing us to full compliance in those areas (and 99% overall) in relatively short order. The third finding, which we do not necessarily agree merits such status, is the direct result of the significant growth Aunt Martha’s has experienced – in patient volume and in the geographies we serve – over the past 18-24 months. Because of that growth and in response to HRSA’s finding, we will look to expand and refine the composition of our board of directors. That effort, which will begin immediately, is in complete alignment with our unequivocal commitment to ensuring Aunt Martha’s represents at all levels of the organization the diversity of the people and communities we serve.
For their part, each of HRSA’s reviewers were profuse in their compliments for our organization and our employees. They called our quality assurance program “exceptional.” They were impressed with our ability to analyze complex data, interpret and use it to make impactful decisions. And they returned repeatedly to the best practices they drew from our collaborative, integrated model of care. In fact, one review characterized their experience at Aunt Martha’s as “integration on steroids.”
All of the credit for Aunt Martha’s success this week (and always) goes to our employees. It has been my experience that this organization’s success in these kinds of reviews, whether conducted by HRSA, The Joint Commission or any other entity, is a reflection of the compassion and commitment they bring to work at Aunt Martha’s every single day. Their individual compassion and commitment – along with your support – make it possible for us to do great things together. I would, briefly, also like to recognize and thank my executive team, especially Audrey Pennington, Mary Martin and Jessica Cummings for continually working to foster an environment that supports our staff and leads to the type of positive results we received this morning.
Ultimately, it is important that we all understand and acknowledge the true value of this process. In thanking the review team this morning for their insight, I remarked to the review team this morning, there have been valuable lessons and invaluable ideas exchanged over these past few days that will be the seeds for new innovation in quality and access to care as we hardwire their feedback into our work. That is a challenge we can all be proud to accept.
President and CEO
A Statement from Raul Garza, President and CEO
April 20, 2021
I wrote in January – and at other times – how integration and collaboration would drive the opportunities our organization chooses to pursue. The reason for that is simple. VALUE. If creating value is our goal (and it is), integration and collaboration are the means by which we will achieve it. Over the last several months, we’ve used this mindset to set Aunt Martha’s course for the period beyond the crisis of COVID-19. When it was announced in late March that the American Rescue Plan Act includes more than $6 billion in funding for community health centers, we saw an opportunity to reimagine the scope of our vision.
These past several weeks, our Board of Directors, Executive and Senior Leadership Teams have worked to incorporate this singular opportunity into our strategic plan. In fact, all of our employees we asked to share their input in a survey conducted through the first week of the month. Together, we identified several priority areas that we are confident will allow us to open our doors to more people and improve the experience and outcomes of the people in our care by more deeply embedding the social determinants of health within our model of care.
Workforce and Infrastructure. We will reaffirm our commitment to our employees and the people in the communities we serve. We will create jobs and new access to care by hiring the additional staff necessary to meet the demand for our services. We will make new investments to support our workforce and improve our ability to train and coach staff.
Technology. We will invest in the tools our care teams need to understand and work together to address the interwoven needs of the people they serve, incorporating the social determinants of health into a unique record, available across all our services, for every patient and client we serve. We will build on the momentum of the past year, further increasing our capacity to offer remote monitoring options for our patients with chronic conditions and leveraging new reporting and analytics to inform our decisions, improve outcomes and lower the cost of care.
Capital Improvements. We recognize the importance of the environments in which our employees work and our patients and clients receive care. We will create new spaces for teams to collaborate, build out new exam rooms and areas where groups of people (progressively larger, we hope, as we put COVID behind us) can come together to learn from one another.
Integrated Care and Collaboration. Most importantly, we will invest and re-invest in our integrated care model. We will make this investment internally and in concert with those who share our vision, forging new partnerships and piloting innovative new approaches to addressing the social determinants of health. In fact, we are already working with several organizations in the Medicaid Managed Care space who recognize the value of the investment Aunt Martha’s is prepared to make. These partnerships would be similar to the model that jumpstarted Aunt Martha’s adoption of integrated care. In 2003, we worked alongside Columbia University to pioneer the use of integrated care in a community health setting. Now, we will work with the managed care community in much the same way to establish a value-based approach in which community-level providers can be held accountable for and incentivized to help their patients overcome fundamental barriers to wellness, including transportation barriers, food and housing insecurity or homelessness.
All of this work, like every aspect of our work at Aunt Martha’s, is an investment in our vision and the people – our employees – who dedicate themselves each day to adding, at every opportunity, something of value to the lives of those they serve, but also to our payers, the State of Illinois and the federal government. It is difficult to overstate the significance of the funding provided by the American Rescue Plan Act. Our plan, in its original context, was aggressive. We are faced now, however, with a transformational opportunity to accelerate our efforts. It is an opportunity we must each be prepared to face with a clarity of mind and purpose and to embrace with a sense of both urgency and optimism.
President and CEO
A Statement from Raul Garza, President & CEO
March 5, 2021
According to the state’s Department of Public Health, White people received close to 70% of the 2.76 million COVID-19 vaccination doses that were administered in Illinois through February 28. Even in the most equitable distribution scenarios, the introduction of a third, single-dose vaccine will not on its own significantly alter the math that shows Whites being vaccinated at a rate 9 times that of Illinois’ Black and Latino communities. The fundamental challenge – as issues of supply and local accessibility are overcome – is one of demand. Demand, that is, among those individuals and groups who are both: a) at a higher risk of infection, as Latinos have been, or death or serious complication, as African Americans have been; and b) highly hesitant about taking the vaccine that might be the difference between life and death.
This is a challenge of building and rebuilding trust. It is a challenge that Aunt Martha’s is proud to own. Our plan, as we have seen played out since early December, is to deliver clear and consistent communication with messaging that builds trust, acknowledges historic reasons for mistrust and dispels myths and misinformation in the communities that have been hit hardest by COVID-19.
Protecting, Educating and Empowering all Employees
Consistent with our approach at every step over the past 12 months, our focus is first on protecting, educating and empowering our employees, from the front line to the back office. Our goal, based on the premise that every employee has the opportunity to positively influence the vaccination decisions of their peers, their friends and their family, is two-fold. In addition to building confidence in their decision to get vaccinated and encourage others to take the vaccine, we are also arming our staff with the tools they need to educate the people they serve, answer their questions and address their concerns. We continually encourage our employees to engage in this two-way dialogue through:
- Regular surveys that provide invaluable insight on the pandemic’s evolving impact from both a personal and professional perspective;
- Townhall sessions hosted by our Chief Medical Officer and other clinical leaders where staff are given the opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns in an unscripted, informal setting; and,
- A consistent flow of communication between our executive team and all levels of staff.
Educating and Engaging Communities and Individuals
You are most likely already more familiar with our ongoing, public campaign to educate and engage the people and communities we serve. To better understand varying needs across our service area, we use real-time data from sources like the COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index, which overlays indicators of social vulnerability, such as socioeconomic status or language barriers, with indicators of vulnerability unique to the pandemic, such as access to healthcare and comorbidities among the population. Our message can then be tailored, to the extent possible, to the unique needs of each community.
Since appearing as a source in a mid-November article in the Chicago Tribune, we have continued to aggressively pursue opportunities to address vaccine hesitancy, reinforce the safety and efficacy of the various vaccines now available, and encourage vaccine uptake among all those for whom it is recommended. Subsequent to that article, I have been interviewed for several shows, including CBS This Morning’s Vaccinating America (December 11) series and ADELANTE (February 25) which focuses on reaching a large Latino market segment and airs on Milwaukee PBS. Between those appearances, I participated in a Facebook Live (January 24) session with Emmy award-winning news anchor Robin Robinson and, as many of you are aware, was asked to speak during the press conference that followed Governor Pritzker’s February 12 visit to Aunt Martha’s vaccine clinic at our Chicago Heights Community Health Center.
Save only for ensuring the safety of our employees, these efforts are moot if they do not contribute to the impact of our work in some of Illinois’ most vulnerable communities. In that work, we are proud to work with collaborative partners in the child welfare, juvenile justice, community wellness and healthcare spaces. In addition to the vaccinations we’ve administered to our staff and patients, DCFS named Aunt Martha’s its preferred partner in the effort to ensure that frontline child welfare workers (the Department’s staff as well as employees from other child welfare agencies) have the opportunity to be vaccinated in the first phase of the campaign. And, in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, we are partnering with Humboldt Park Health (formerly Norwegian American Hospital) and The Loretto Hospital to establish a community-focused integrated care network that will address:
- The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 among communities of color, especially the area’s Latinx population, which has accounted for 56% of all cases in the area.
- Gaps in care – many long-standing – including access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment, specialty care for chronic conditions and other community resources that influence the social determinants of health; and,
- The structural racism that stakeholders say not only contributes to health inequities but also continues to traumatize individuals and communities.
What is clear, in the final analysis, is that medicine alone will not lead us out of this pandemic. The best of our collective clinical skills must be blended with the best of our individual character, our common pursuit of equity and social justice, and our common goal of caring for those who are most vulnerable. This is the perspective our employees have embraced. Their commitment and their compassion are perhaps most clearly reflected by the growth Aunt Martha’s has experienced even in the midst of the most uncertain days of pandemic.
Last year, more than 12,000 patients visited an Aunt Martha’s health center for the first time, and our clinic staff cared for more than 75,000 patients in all. Agency-wide, we directly touched close to 120,000 lives, but our impact extended to still thousands more. All of this is because Aunt Martha’s is that place where people know they are always welcome and where they will always be well cared for by what is, in my estimation, the best collection of talent, courage and selflessness in our industry.
President and CEO
A Statement from Raul Garza, President & CEO
February 5, 2021
Dear Friends and Colleagues:
On Tuesday of this week I lost my father to COVID-19. He was 82 years old, had survived a stroke a dozen years ago and beaten Leukemia in the years since. It was only in the past seven years or so that I grew very close to my dad. He was my confidant, often consoling but more often offering counsel through challenges, including my work at Aunt Martha’s. My dad got his COVID-19 diagnosis on New Year’s Eve. He was hospitalized and after eight days was released, appearing to have overcome the virus that overtook him Tuesday. Yes, you could say that he lived a full life, but he had more living to do.
My purpose today is not, however deserving I know him to be, to pay tribute to my father. It is, simply, to say thank you. I want to thank those who have already reached out with your condolences and comforting thoughts. Most especially, I want to thank the staff at Aunt Martha’s dental clinic in Chicago Heights who took such great care of my dad over the past several years. He always told me how kindly the people at the health center treated him, that he always felt good about his experience there. I was never surprised by what he said. You, my colleagues, offered compassion and kindness. You took care of my father when no one else would, and for that you have my most heartfelt appreciation and love. In lieu of flowers, my mother has asked her friends and my father’s to make a donation to Aunt Martha’s dental clinic in Chicago Heights.
In addition to my thanks, I want to once more encourage everyone to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Do it for yourself, for your family and for your community.
My father never had the opportunity to take the vaccine and it breaks my heart to think of anyone suffering as he did in the final weeks of his life. It breaks my heart to think of you or your loved ones suffering the emotional toll that this virus takes on its victims and their families. Please consider taking the vaccine. We all have too much to live for.
Please take care and please take every opportunity to be good to the people around you.
My Father and I
January 15, 2021
Among its many effects, the COVID-19 pandemic has shed powerful light on our society’s failures. Chief among those failures is the disturbing reality of disparity sown in every effort that enables or contributes to systemic inequities and exclusions. We see, every day, stark examples of the carefully constructed, morally corrupt relationship between poverty, race, life and death in our country. We see people of color – especially those living in low-income households – continue to bear the worst effects of COVID-19 itself and its economic fallout. According to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service, the highest rates of employment-related income loss have been among Hispanics, where an estimated 58% of households have lost employment income since March. About half of African American households are estimated to have lost employment income. The largest portion of households to lose employment income were low-income homes with children.
These are the most vulnerable members of our communities. These are the people Aunt Martha’s is proud to serve, more than 77,000 children and adults in 2020, including 12,000 who came to us for the first time. In all, we provided nearly a quarter of a million visits, a 20% increase in just two years. That growth is a testament to the depth of the needs in the communities we serve and to the substance and scope of the response we are prepared to offer. In the first months of the New Year, we will do more.
Building on our strategic priorities of integration and collaboration, Aunt Martha’s will in the first quarter of 2021 open four new health center locations in several of Illinois’ most high-need communities, including three within the City of Chicago. The partnerships we have forged, including two which will place Aunt Martha’s clinics in hospital settings, are precisely the type of work now being advocated among the state legislature, which is specifically calling for closer work between hospitals and Federally Qualified Health Centers. It is a collaborative arrangement Aunt Martha’s first entered 14 years ago when we opened our hospital-based clinic at Advocate South Suburban, and it is a model we will soon have at nearly 25% of our health centers (6 of what will then be 27 health centers).
Each of our new locations will serve as a medical home, but they will also make a vital contribution to their communities’ COVID-19 response. After providing more than 34,000 COVID-19 tests and experiencing positivity rates of 54% among Latinos and 17% among African Americans (compared to a cumulative statewide rate of 7.3%), we are ready to move forward with our work in the vaccination campaign. This effort will include extensive outreach and community education activities to engage those individuals whose cultural history might contribute to anxiety that keeps them from being vaccinated. Our work will also include, as it did in the state’s initial testing rollout, a preferred provider partnership with the Department of Children and Family Services. As a result of that experience and its confidence in our team, the Department came to Aunt Martha’s to ensure its frontline staff would be included in the first phase of the vaccination campaign.
As we ready ourselves for the work ahead we are, of course, encouraging our own employees to be vaccinated as appropriate. In fact, vaccination hubs have been established at seven of our health centers and health center staff across our network have begun receiving the first dose of the vaccine. Vaccines will of course be offered to all Aunt Martha’s employees as soon as they are available. As we look to the year ahead, let us all consider the shared responsibility we have to care for the people around us, and the communities where we live and work. At Aunt Martha’s, we ask ourselves and encourage one another every day to live up to that responsibility. We know there are many individuals and organizations who embrace such an approach. To them, we offer – if only metaphorically – our hand, our support and our partnership.
President and CEO
December 30, 2020
Though we may try, it will not be an easy task to turn the page on 2020. It is perhaps, one of the enduring ironies of a year that begs like no other to be left behind. The year has tested our patience, tried our resolve and revealed our character. Its mark is indelible, both for better and for worse. At Aunt Martha’s we choose to learn from the latter and to celebrate the former. We choose to learn, to recognize the wisdom of self-reflection and to seize every opportunity to right the errors of the past. We choose to celebrate the work done well, the small victories as much as the large, and the next step forward. We choose to act.
Our perspective is reflected in our approach to the events of 2020, but its roots are embedded, foundational elements of our organizational strategy and design. It is in the agility built into the COVID-19 response plan we shared in the first days of the pandemic. Our perspective is in the innovation of the Children’s Quarantine Center, a one-of-a-kind facility that integrates the best practices of health care and child welfare. It is in our plan to leverage telehealth to bridge the gaps of social distancing and breakdown the barriers that keep people from getting the care they need, a plan that will see by December 31 more than 25,000 patients having received a telehealth visit, a year-to-year increase of almost 700%. Our perspective is, most importantly, embodied in the countless acts of selflessness and courage of our heroes, the frontline staff whose connection to their patients, clients and communities is the essence of Aunt Martha’s mission.
We choose to act, and we pledge today to continue speak out and stand up against the racial and social injustices suffered by too many of our colleagues, our neighbors, our families and our children. We pledge to continue to stand for the rights of those we serve, as we have done in Midlothian where the federal court has prevented Village officials, whose discriminatory tactics continue, to deny DCFS youth the right to quarantine in a protective, homelike environment. We choose to continue challenging our peers to examine their own beliefs and practices, and we will continue to demand change, always advocating for equity in the representation and meaningful inclusion of the individuals and communities we serve. This means challenging, as Aunt Martha’s has, accountable care organizations, advocacy groups, associations and councils to understand that diversity and equity (or lack thereof) is an achievement of leadership intent. In the rare places where diversity, equity and inclusiveness exist, we must challenge ourselves to maintain them. Where they do not exist, we must accept the challenge – and the moral obligation – to do the hard work of rebuilding our organizations in the image of those we serve.
We choose to act, and to apply the difficult lessons of 2020 with a renewed sense of optimism and hope for ourselves and one another. We look forward to new collaborations and to contributing to a meaningful, shared response to the needs of new communities with the opening of four new clinics in the City of Peoria and the City of Chicago’s Humboldt Park, Belmont Cragin, and South Chicago neighborhoods. We look forward to fostering, with discipline and intent, a culture and community that reflects the values of diversity, equity and inclusion. We look forward to coming together safely – in person – once again and we look forward to facing head on whatever challenges might be ahead.
We hope you will continue to share in this journey with us. From myself and the entire Aunt Martha’s family, I wish you the best of health and happiness in the New Year.
December 11, 2020
To All Aunt Martha’s Employees:
Fearless and compassionate. These words were repeated on several occasions when Aunt Martha’s Board of Directors convened earlier this week for our final scheduled meeting of 2020.
Fearless and compassionate. This is how the Board of Directors characterized Aunt Martha’s response – your response – to every challenge 2020 has mustered. You stood on the frontline in a global pandemic and on the frontline of the fight against racism and inequity. You stood and continue to stand, in our perspective, as heroes and as examples of what is right.
You stood, fearlessly and compassionately when faced with the greatest health crisis of our time. You protected the children in our care and supported some of the most vulnerable families in our community. You broke new ground and opened new doors to stay connected to your patients and clients; and you innovated, integrating the best of child welfare practices with best practices in healthcare to create the only COVID-19 quarantine center for DCFS youth in Illinois.
And you stood, fearlessly and compassionately against the generations of racism, bias and moral failures that poison our society. More than stand – you made your voices heard. At a time when far too many have fallen silent, you have challenged yourselves and others to reexamine who they are – and what they stand for. You challenged a managed care organization, statewide advisory councils and trade associations to address their lack of diversity at all levels to insure the perspectives of the people they serve are represented. You challenged the community – places like the Village of Midlothian – where racism and discriminatory practices threaten the rights and the well-being of our patients, clients and employees.
To a person, this Board could not be more proud of our organization. We could not be more proud of the Leadership Team for its foresight, its vision, its execution and, above all else, its willingness to do anything and everything that is necessary to support and protect our employees. Nor could we be more proud of you, the individuals and teams who represent Aunt Martha’s to the thousands of people whose lives you touch every day. Your fearlessness in doing the most difficult work of your lives is inspirational. Your compassion for and connection with the people you serve has never been more clear.
On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, with the greatest respect and the warmest wishes for a healthy, happy holiday season, I thank you.
Board of Directors
November 20, 2020
Every seven seconds another Illinois resident is confirmed positive for COVID-19.1 This week Illinois has averaged more than 12,100 new cases per day, a 2-week increase of 58% and a 3-week spike of 133%. According to Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, the data confirms the worst. The plain fact is that COVID-19 is spreading unchecked through our communities.
At Aunt Martha’s, where our frontline staff have unflinchingly faced every challenge the coronavirus has spawned, we have been fortunate to have experienced comparatively low positivity rates. That good fortune is less the result of circumstance and more the result of individual diligence, discipline and organizational design. It is, first and foremost, the result of a conscious, continuous effort – on the part of more than 800 employees – to do the right things to protect one another as well as those we serve.
The individual determination of our staff is buttressed by an organization-wide safety and risk mitigation strategy that was put in place in the first days of the pandemic. Our strategy, which continues to evolve, is not driven by a top-down approach. Instead, its design is reverse-engineered from the individual perspective to the organizational level. Its goal is to achieve the highest levels of both safety and, as the stresses of the pandemic now blend with the stresses of the holiday season, support.
Driven by data and informed by best practice, we continue to exercise extreme caution at every Aunt Martha’s facility. We remain committed to going beyond the PPE, physical barriers, fogging and deep cleaning protocols that have been in place since the outset, and continue to consult with a Certified Industrial Hygienist as we build protective measures into the physical infrastructure of our health centers, shelters and offices, including:
- The installation of bipolar ionization systems which emit charged particles that attach to and deactivate harmful substances, including the coronavirus;
- The installation of germicidal ultraviolet lights like those used by hospitals to kill viruses on surfaces; and,
- The installation of hospital-grade negative air pressure systems that effectively isolate infected individuals from non-infected individuals within the same facility.
All of these things are investments in the physical health of our staff. Our responsibility – as individual executives and as an organization – does not end there. The mental health toll of the COVID-19 pandemic is every bit as dangerous, and potentially more long-lasting than its physical effects. This is why our approach to safety and risk mitigation has turned increasingly to initiatives to support our employees during the time when they are not at work, from offering self-care webinars to providing gift checks for holiday meals. And it is why I have asked my team at the executive level to accept personal responsibility and to reaffirm their commitment to ensuring the physical and mental well-being of our employees.
Nothing, when it comes to the health and safety of our employees, can be left to chance. Where there are shortcomings, they will be swiftly addressed; and where there are additional investments needed, they will be made.
This is what our employees deserve. They deserve it because they are responsible for the unparalleled level of care Aunt Martha’s provides. There is no other health center that rises to the occasion to care for the highest risk youth in our child welfare system, and there is no other child welfare agency whose reach extends into the homes and lives of more than 105,000 people in over 600 communities.
This year more than ever, our employees deserve – and I know they have – our utmost respect and thanks. Please have a safe and healthy holiday season.
October 21, 2020
In a time of crisis, Aunt Martha’s chose to stand up and speak out about the racial and social injustices that too many of our patients and clients, our parents and our children, our employees, our coworkers and colleagues continue to endure. We chose to challenge our peers to become more diverse at all levels, and to advocate for true change. There is progress, but the time has come for strides rather than mere steps. And in this time of crisis – inspired and driven by the courage and commitment of our employees – Aunt Martha’s chose to innovate, to invest in the immediate and ongoing needs of the hundreds of communities we serve.
We developed and opened the Children’s Quarantine Center (CQC), the state’s only facility designed to provide a homelike setting for foster care youth impacted by COVID-19. A hospital-grade negative air pressure system limits the spread of the disease, and its integration with Aunt Martha’s health care team ensures every youth is monitored for symptoms, has direct access to COVID-19 testing and care, and maintains full compliance with any other medication needs. Despite continuing opposition, the CQC continues to operate, at times near 100% capacity, serving youth placed from communities across Illinois.
We expanded access to care, expanding the use of our telehealth network to offer remote access to our therapy, medical and dental services. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, our providers and care coordinators completed more than 40,000 telehealth visits.
And, even in a time of social distancing, we have continued to forge ahead with new partnerships that leverage our unique experience to understand and respond to the rapidly evolving needs of our patients and clients. These collaborations will serve as the groundwork for initiatives that build on our CQC experience, reach new people in new communities and expand access to an integrated network of healthcare, child welfare, housing, education and employment services.
Aunt Martha’s chooses the path of innovation and investment. We choose to look inward and challenge ourselves. And we look outward, accepting the challenges ahead and challenging the assumptions that contribute to the injustices and divisions in our communities and in our country.
September 21, 2020
I write today because you have always known me to be transparent with you about organizational issues Aunt Martha’s is facing, including at times what our leaders are experiencing personally. Aunt Martha’s has never hesitated, in its history of close to 50 years, to stand up against injustice in any form, in any forum or in any community. Over the past four months, I have written extensively to audiences both personal and public about our clear stance and commitment to racial and social justice. Many of our employees have also expressed their concern and their disgust with the level of inequity that exists within certain outside entities, and it has been my pledge to continue to take this fight to any and all arenas where it is necessary. To meet that commitment, I – and we – must be willing to challenge, even confront those among us who might hear our words but fail to heed our message.
Today, Aunt Martha’s is at the forefront in a movement of morality. The change we seek and the justice we demand may begin with the individual but it will not be realized until the morals of equity and fairness are part and parcel of the institutions upon which we all depend.
Among those Aunt Martha’s has challenged are the co-chairs of a statewide advocacy group comprised of CEOs, executive directors and other c-suite professionals, more than 75% of whom are white, which is not representative of the individuals who depend on their work. The response of the two white co-chairs to Aunt Martha’s challenge to build a more diverse, inclusive membership has been indignant at best. In some cases, the response has been blatantly racist.
One co-chair, on a call that took place more than a week after I had written a letter challenging the group to examine its diversity and practices, asked me why I had not brought my concerns directly and privately to them. My response was simple. This is a conversation that must not take place behind closed doors. The demand for change is clear; and the decisions we choose to make – to recognize what is right or perpetuate a culture of incivility and exclusion – must be made with the utmost of transparency.
Then, a subsequent conversation took place between the two co-chairs and three African American members of Aunt Martha’s executive team (Audrey Pennington, Chief Operating Officer; Dr. Charles Barron, Chief Medical Officer; and Dr. Forrest Moore, Chief Strategy and Innovations Officer) that was intended as an opportunity for the co-chairs to apologize for their offensive lack of a timely response to the concerns raised by Aunt Martha’s. However, as opposed to simply apologizing and then identifying actions the co-chairs could take to increase diversity, its other co-chair made repeated demeaning and hurtful remarks. In response to a suggestion from Audrey to change the composition of membership in order to identifying people of color beyond the c-suite, the co-chair repeatedly expressed concerns regarding people not coming “ready and prepared to do the work” and the need to identify individuals who were “strategic thinkers.” After the sentiments were expressed a few times, Dr. Moore attempted to redirect the comment by explaining that what the group was discussing and the co-chair’s concerns appeared to be two separate issues: 1) Identifying diverse members, and 2) Member roles, responsibilities and accountability.
Following the conversation, Audrey, Dr. Barron, and Dr. Moore felt compelled to memorialize their experience, which they all three identified as a micro-aggression, and sent a communication to the co-chairs indicating that the co-chair’s comments had perpetuated the “false narrative regarding laziness that Blacks have been forced to fight against for centuries” and informing them that “raising concerns regarding work ethic during a conversation about building a more diverse membership was, at best, misplaced.”
Despite the subsequent acknowledgment and requisite apologies that have been made, this memo is a condemnation of the sentiments laid bare by those two co-chairs. Their stance, whether purposeful or pure posturing, has no foundation. I had an opportunity to speak with the top 20 Aunt Martha’s leaders on Friday and upon sharing the details of this experience with them, they became emotional, they became angry, and they demanded change. Every single member of Aunt Martha’s leadership team, whether a person of color or not, was repulsed by the details of our colleagues’ experience. That experience reminds us that even publicly celebrated, respected individuals are not immune to the failures of deep-seeded, hurtful biases.
We continue to fight for fairness with a clarity of heart and in the clear light of day. Those who oppose our view should possess the same courage, lest their conversations and lust for control continue in the shadows.
New Support in Our Fight Against Racism, Discrimination in the Village of Midlothian and the Battle Against COVID-19
August 17, 2020
Backed by a $5 million donation from The Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation, the Live Healthy Chicago collaborative informed Aunt Martha’s last week of a $50,000 grant award to offset a portion of the cost of the negative air pressure system installed in April at our Children’s Quarantine Center (CQC).
The CQC represents Aunt Martha’s response to calls from DCFS for agencies with the capacity to safely care for youth in the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, it is the state’s only facility designed to care specifically for foster children whose living situation is disrupted by COVID-19. The installation of a hospital-grade negative air pressure system – which insures infectious germs do not spread through the HVAC system from the rooms where youth are quarantined to the rest of the facility – is one of the many investments we’ve made to protect our employees and the youth in our care.
The CQC has also come to represent the fight against a plague far older, far more infectious and far more dangerous than any virus. Since mid-May it has been the frontline of Aunt Martha’s fight against discrimination and intolerance. The Village of Midlothian continues to shroud its discriminatory effort to close the CQC behind a message of public safety. What level of concern was raised when there was a COVID-19 outbreak at a local nursing home? What questions did Village officials ask? What demands did they make of that facility and those responsible for its operation?
If fairness was their practice and public safety their priority, the Village would have subjected the nursing home to the same level of scrutiny to which it has forced Aunt Martha’s to respond. Instead, “fairness” remains a concept foreign to their vernacular and their selective concern for “public safety” only a weak attempt to veil their discrimination.
The breakdown last week of settlement negotiations in our federal lawsuit against the Village is further illustration of its defiance in the face of justice, of decency and what is right. The leadership of the Village of Midlothian chooses to ignore their moral obligation at a time when communities across our country and around the globe are so rightfully vilifying long-standing racial and social injustices.
Several days ago, I had occasion to speak with Robin Robinson, the highly respected, Emmy awarding-winning Chicago journalist. I shared with her Aunt Martha’s experience with the Village of Midlothian. Her reaction, describing the situation as a “travesty” and her offer to lend her voice in support of Aunt Martha’s were not unlike the responses I have received from so many others.
My conversation with Ms. Robinson and the new funding from the Live Healthy Chicago collaborative are just the latest examples of the valuable allies Aunt Martha’s continues to gain in this fight. Most importantly, they are friends and allies to the children and youth who rely on us – on you – to stand up on their behalf.
Excerpt from a Memo to Aunt Martha’s Employees from Raul Garza, President & CEO
July 2, 2020
On Tuesday, June 30, I published a statement following that days hearing before the US District Court in Aunt Martha’s discrimination suit against the Village of Midlothian.
The judge had extended the emergency temporary restraining order that prevents the Village from shutting down our Children’s Quarantine Center. The individuals representing the Village, however, have never been more transparent in either their desire or intent to shutter the CQC. They couch their motives in a message of public safety. But let me be absolutely clear. The protection they seek is not protection from a virus. They are fighting to keep diversity out of their community. They are fighting to prevent DCFS youth, most of whom are children of color, many of whom suffer from physical or mental disabilities, from receiving a level of care that every child deserves and which only the CQC can offer. They, in short, are fighting on the wrong side of history; and as far as Aunt Martha’s is concerned, their discriminatory practices and racist attitudes can be neither tolerated nor allowed to prevail.
This is where we stand as we enter the three-day holiday weekend. It is a good time to reflect on the journey we have taken together. I am certain that none of us has ever experienced a three and a half month period that has felt so long or caused so much upheaval in every aspect of our lives. We – you – have done this organization’s best work under the most trying of circumstances. Reflect on that, on the mental, emotional and physical sacrifices we have made for one another. Be proud, but also be mindful. Enjoy the holiday, but remember that we must all continue to protect each other and ourselves from a virus that is still very real and very dangerous. Reflect on your personal journey, celebrate our shared journey, and know that I believe our greatest work still lies ahead.
Finally, as I reflect on my own experience, I need to acknowledge the members of Aunt Martha’s Executive Leadership Team, whose commitment to our mission and dedication to our employees has never been so clearly displayed than it has over the course of the past four months. Through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to the frontline of the fight to transform racial and social justice, their tireless and selfless work deserves our recognition and our thanks.
I, for one, have never worked with a stronger group of leaders than the team of: Audrey Pennington, Chief Operating Officer; Jessica Cummings, Chief Legal and Administrative Officer; Mary Martin, Chief Financial Officer; Dr. Charles Barron, Chief Medical Officer, and Allison Van Gerpen, Executive Assistant to the President & CEO and Director of Special Projects.
These five individuals have worked countless hours to ensure the safety of our employees. Their diligent planning and execution has saved jobs and preserved health benefits. They have, at all times, communicated with transparency and compassion. Most importantly, they have never allowed themselves or any member of their team to be comfortable or complacent with any of these priorities being anything less than fully accomplished.
My thanks to each of them, and to all of you. Please be safe this weekend as the rates of infection go up across the country and the city continues to see unprecedented increase in violence. Keep your children and yourselves safe.
A Statement from Raul Garza, President and CEO, on Aunt Martha’s Continued Stand Against Racism and Against the Discriminatory Practices in the Village of Midlothian
June 30, 2020
Last month, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and a level of racial and social upheaval our country has not witnessed in a generation, Aunt Martha’s filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Village of Midlothian for violating the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act in an effort to shutter the state’s first children’s quarantine center for DCFS youth affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yesterday, the court issued its third extension of the Emergency Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), which Order continues to prohibit the Village from shutting down the only facility designed for this purpose, for yet another 60-day period or until August 28, 2020. The issue at hand is not one of local ordinances. The Village of Midlothian would like the public to believe that is the case. Nor is the issue at hand one of public health and safety. Still, the Village attempts to portray it as that, too.
This discrimination case has been and continues to be one of fairness. It is, at its core, the issue we are all challenged to confront and represents the systemic inequities we have allowed to become so deeply entrenched in our society and, at our own fault, in our own communities.
There is no challenge more difficult to overcome than that which we refuse to confront. The events of recent weeks have given rise to difficult conversations. Those conversations must be had in our boardrooms and in the public forum, at our breakfast tables, across our balconies and over our backyard fences.
Aunt Martha’s chooses to follow the right and just path. So, too, do our allies, who we are proud to recognize and to stand alongside. Recognizing the civil rights violations being perpetrated by the Village of Midlothian against the DCFS youth served at the Children’s Quarantine Center – youth of color, youth with mental and physical handicaps, youth who are now fighting COVID-19, this week Aunt Martha’s legal team led by Jessica Cummings and Ricardo Meza, anchored by Roger Derstine, and assisted by Sohil Shah, was joined by Homero Tristan and the UIC John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Legal Clinic. We issued a press release annoucing that partnership today.
It is my solemn commitment that Aunt Martha’s will continue to stand up against discrimination in all forms and will continue to advocate against inequality and the health disparities that systemic racism and inequality ultimately breeds. We will not allow the Village of Midlothian or any other government entity, institution, or corporation to prevail in treating the most vulnerable members of our society disproportionately.
A Statement from Raul Garza, President & CEO
June 19, 2020
Today, June 19 – or Juneteenth – commemorates the freedom of the last Black slaves in America. It has been 155 years since the date was first recognized in 1865. As recent events have demonstrated, our country and each of us as individuals still have a great deal of work to do in the name of equality and justice. It is a day to reflect on the type of country we are, and the type of country and the type of people we must still strive to become.
We must choose to be accountable for our words and our actions. We must consider our own shortcomings, our biases and misperceptions. Then, we must make a conscious effort every day to not merely correct our own failures but to insure we do not condemn future generations by poisoning our children with those same shortcomings and biases.
The Supreme Court reminded us this week of the basic values, the basic rights that too many people have learned to take for granted, but which too many others have had to fight so hard to enjoy. First, on Monday, the Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination based on sex. That decision represented a huge victory for the LGBTQ community. Then, yesterday, the Court blocked the president’s administration’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.
As we come to the end of another week in our continued fight against the coronavirus and our renewed effort to live up to our country’s true ideals, I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to reach out to me directly. Your words of gratitude and support tell me that Aunt Martha’s has chosen to be on the right side of history. Your messages are appreciated and valued more than you know.
Finally, I want to wish Happy Father’s Day to all of the fathers of Aunt Martha’s. Please take the time to enjoy your children, however young or old. The future we are fighting for is theirs.
And, to everyone, please have a safe weekend. Take care of yourselves and each other.
Excerpt from a Memo to Aunt Martha’s Employees from Raul Garza, President & CEO
June 15, 2020
I have mentioned the work being done to restructure the design of our orgnization to best support our employees and thrive in the new reality of COVID-19; and, more importantly, strengthen our ability to contribute to a social environment of racial equity and justice.
I am pleased to report that we have completed the design phase of that effort. Now, we must all go to work. The changes we make and the work we do together will represent an extension of our collective fight against the racial and social injustices faced by so many members of the communities we serve.
I am pleased to share that today our country’s evolution into a more just society took an important step forward. Today, the Supreme Court ruled that the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
We are living through a historic time. Our own work at Aunt Martha’s is both inspired by recent events and meant to position our organization to serve as an agent of inspiration in response to the renewed and, I hope permanent, demand for and attention to bringing justice and equality to all aspects of our society.
A Statement from Raul Garza, President & CEO
June 12, 2020
In calendar year 2019, more than 70 percent of the patients and clients who turned to Aunt Martha’s were people of color. One-third of those we served identified themselves as being Hispanic or Latino in ethnicity. More than half (55 percent) identified themselves as African American.
These numbers are more than statistics. They represent this organization’s commitment – your commitment – to serving and to caring for those who historically have been underserved at best, and often left to fend entirely for themselves. They also represent Aunt Martha’s. They represent you and I. Today, for the first time in its proud history, Aunt Martha’s has people of color serving in the roles of both CEO and Chief Operating Officer. Overall, more than 75 percent of the agency’s staff (including close to 60 percent at the leadership level) are people of color, representing and reflecting at every level of the organization the experiences and challenges faced every day by the people we serve.
Our commitment to and achievement (at least relative to many other organizations) of true diversity up, down and across our organization can and should be a source of pride. More importantly, it must continue to be a call-to-action.
The self-reflection, difficult conversations and the rightful demands for justice and change throughout society brought about by the tumult of the past weeks are merely the beginning. The depth of the depravity and discrimination to which so many are subjected must be eradicated, but it must never be forgotten.
As an organization that is committed to diversity and inclusion, and that celebrates the strengths of every individual, we must never allow ourselves to accept – individually or as an organization – anything less than the full and true realization of the HUMAN RIGHTS of every person in our community. That challenge sits with each of us. We are called to carry it and to live its truth in our homes, our neighborhoods and our workplace.
Finally, however, we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted from the continuing, global health crisis of the coronavirus. I have repeatedly urged each of you to take the precautions necessary to protect yourselves and your families. This is particularly important for those who might make trips across the state line, where although the restrictions may be fewer, the health risks remain the same. I would be remiss if I did not continue to echo my previous requests. The decisions we make as individuals will have a direct impact on our families, our coworkers and those we serve. I ask you all, once again, to please take care.
A Statement from Raul Garza, President & CEO
May 31, 2020
The overt acts of racism that have occurred across our country over the past few weeks are truly disturbing. The tragic events that have been covered extensively by the media recently are truly some of the worst examples, but they are not the only racist events that have occurred in the past month, past week, or even the past day. Racism of varying degrees occurs every minute of every day – some with tragic outcomes such as the heartbreaking cases of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. May they both rest in peace.
Although the internet and social media has, at times, allowed racism to be more readily exposed, racism in our country is not a new reality. The dark history of mistreatment of people who are perceived to be “different” than those in power has scarred this country and all who call it home. The disadvantages created by the vicious cycle of historic and ever-present racism is immense. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified the inequalities that already existed.
Recognizing and calling out racism is the first step in bringing about change. To do our part, we must stand up against racial injustice and make a commitment to be overtly anti-racist. That is the commitment that we all must share. It is not only our duty as human beings or U.S. citizens, but also as individuals who, as members of the Aunt Martha’s team, have committed our lives to addressing the effects of the racial and social injustice many of our patients and participants have experienced throughout their lives.
As an organization, Aunt Martha’s believes that we have a duty to stand up against what is wrong – whether it is against an individual, a company, an association, or even a municipality. That belief is reflected in our long history of standing up for the rights of DCFS youth in care, the majority of whom are children of color, especially African American youth, whose lives have been immeasurably impacted by the weight of racial and social injustice this country has failed to accept and address over hundreds of years. This belief is what underlies Aunt Martha’s decision and commitment to our fight against the discriminatory actions of the Village of Midlothian. And as I have said before, it is a fight from which we will not shy away.
This is the time that we must all bond together – to treat one another with respect, to appreciate our differences, and to recognize that there are those among us who, based simply on the color of their skin, are more at risk than others. To our hundreds of team members of color, I am immensely sorry that this is your reality. Please know that myself and the rest of the Aunt Martha’s leadership is here for you and we will do anything we can to support you. As always, your safety and wellbeing is of utmost importance. Please be safe as you travel to work or within your communities over the coming days and do not hesitate to reach out to us if needed.
And if you feel that you would benefit from additional support during this difficult time, you can reach out to me or any member of Aunt Martha’s leadership team. Confidential counseling services are also available through the Employee Assistance Program by calling 1-800‐292‐2780.