A commitment to social justice has always been key to the foundation of Aunt Martha’s Health and Wellness. From the start, diversity, equity, and inclusion were a genuine and natural piece of the model of care for youth, families, and the community. Early employees tell stories of the incredibly diverse staff and volunteer base – all ages, races, ethnicities, genders, orientations, and abilities were represented from the ground up.

newspaper headline, pastor says racism drives opposition to home for boys

Our internal diversity gives Aunt Martha’s an appreciation of and dedication to social justice. It’s part of who we are – to be a voice for the vulnerable or marginalized our community.

Aunt Martha’s has taken its advocacy for the people we serve all the way to the federal courts in order ensure they get the care and services they need in an environment without prejudice or restriction.

Quite simply,

We do what’s right.

That’s our commitment to every child and adult – for the next 50 years and beyond.

Aunt Martha’s worked hard to overcome public resistance to its group homes for DCFS youth.

The BMN Crisis Worsens

As the urgent quarantine needs of the pre-vaccine pandemic subsided, plans turned once again to the creation of a Step Down program for youth ready to leave the Integrated Care Center the CQC and the Children’s Quarantine Center was no longer as necessary, the plans resumed to convert the space to the Step Down program.

While that moved forward, a new challenge emerged – the Director of the Department of Children and Family Services in Illinois was charged with being in contempt of court for not finding appropriate placements for youth being held beyond medical necessity (BMN) in hospitals and psychiatric facilities.

Expanding on the ICC Model

Hearing this news, Aunt Martha’s leadership knew the organization had to be a part of the solution. Today, we are planning to expand on the success of the ICC model — and welcome an exciting new partner — to allow Aunt Martha’s to take on more youth in crisis or with significant behavioral health needs.

We believe every child deserves a chance to feel safe, appreciated, and receive the care they need to succeed. We look forward to announcing more about this incredible expansion throughout 2022.

quiet residential home, aunt martha's health and wellness

While ICC staff adjusted to the increasing complexities of the youth being placed in their care — from 2018-2021 they saw a 340% increase in placements directly from psychiatric settings — a new need emerged. Despite the team’s success at stabilizing even the most high-acuity youth, it became clear that many of the kids who improved so quickly in Aunt Martha’s care needed an additional layer of support.

They had a plan in mind. They saw a “Step Down” program as key to continuing the exceptional progress so many youth and young adults had made in the relatively short-term environment of the ICC.

Their plan began to take shape. Then COVID-19 happened.

Philoniese Moore, Senior VP of ICC and CQC Operations, embodies Aunt Martha’s commitment to children and youth. Here she is pictured at the entrance to the Integrated Care Center. On the right is Mr. Amir Major, a former Manager on Duty at the ICC.

The Children’s Quarantine Center

An Urgent Call for Help

On March 21, 2020, Aunt Martha’s learned that the COVID-19 virus had been confirmed in the homes of at least one of Illinois’ DCFS foster care families.  16 days later, 16,400 positive tests had been confirmed.

These families needed to find a safe place for their foster children to go. There was no place. At least not a place that was designed to protect people from a deadly airborne virus. Aunt Martha’s, it just so happened, was positioned to mobilize an immediate response.

We proposed the Children’s Quarantine Center (CQC), which would give DCFS youth the chance to quarantine in home-like setting. Only this home would be equipped with the infectious disease control protections of a health care facility.

Creating the CQC

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Aunt Martha’s operated the facility now known as the Children’s Quarantine Center as a transitional living program for homeless youth and young adults.

Negative Pressure System

In addition to redesigning the space to accommodate and medically isolate the youth placed there, preparing the CQC required the installation of a hospital-grade, negative pressure ventilation system to control the spread of airborne pathogens.

Just as in a hospital setting, where negative pressure rooms are used in patient rooms to ensure infectious germs do not spread throughout the facility via the HVAC systems, the installation of such a system at the CQC effectively isolated youth while protecting them and staff in other areas of the facility from exposure.

Social Distancing

The CQC’s layout reflected its youth-centered program plan, allowing for youth and staff to maintain social distancing while living and working full-time in a congregate setting.

Because limiting exposure to visitors was essential for quarantine, the CQC was equipped with an interactive video system that allowed youth to maintain contact with their families, foster families and other individuals they relied on for support.

Olympia Fields, IL:  Officials at Aunt Martha’s Health and Wellness learned Tuesday that the organization is among the latest recipients of funding from the Live Healthy Chicago collaborative, which in May announced $5 million donation from The Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation to accelerate efforts to assist communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The $50,000 grant will offset a portion of the cost of the negative air pressure system installed in April at Aunt Martha’s Children’s Quarantine Center (CQC), the state’s only facility designed to care specifically for foster children whose living situation is disrupted by the COVID-19.

“We are grateful to have the support of the team at Live Healthy Chicago and appreciate their understanding of the connection between the disproportionate representation of children of color in the DCFS system in Cook County and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 among African American and Latino communities,” said Raul Garza, Aunt Martha’s President and CEO.

Leveraging Aunt Martha’s healthcare and child welfare expertise

The CQC leverages Aunt Martha’s status as the only organization in Illinois to be both a licensed child welfare provider and Federally Qualified Health Center. It provides a home-like setting where DCFS youth who are exposed to or test positive for COVID-19 can be cared for and supervised around the clock until they can safely return to their prior placement.

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. The facility, which since 2011 had served as a supportive and transitional living program for homeless young adults, was redesigned to accommodate and isolate the children placed there.

Hospital-grade protection in a home-like environment

That work included the installation of a hospital-grade negative pressure ventilation system to control the spread of airborne pathogens. The use of negative pressure ensures infectious germs do not spread through the HVAC system from youth rooms to the rest of the facility.

“There are communities willing to turn their backs on, if not outright discriminate against these them; but it’s in Aunt Martha’s DNA to stand up, to make the necessary investments, to innovate and, when necessary, to fight for these kids,” said Garza.

“Our expertise is in blending – integrating – the best practices of child welfare with the best practices of community health care. That’s the work we do at the CQC, and we’re proud to call Live Healthy Chicago our partner.”

About Aunt Martha’s

Aunt Martha’s serves over 105,000 children and adults each year with more than 35 sites, including 23 community health centers spread across nine counties. The agency’s integrated health home model offers value-based, coordinated services, delivering whole person wellness through the integration of primary and behavioral health care and linkages to additional support services that address social determinants of health. Aunt Martha’s has been continuously accredited by The Joint Commission since 1997.

About Live Healthy Chicago

Live Healthy Chicago is a community-based collaborative comprised of Forty Acres Fresh Market, The MAAFA Redemption Project, My Block My Hood My City, Rush University Medical Center, and West Side United. Its mission is to address the immediate wellness of seniors and high-risk populations in target Chicago communities experiencing the highest COVID-19 disparities and food insecurities. Its members are committed to dismantling the systemic racial and health inequities prevalent in target communities by implementing, funding and sustaining immediate, long term and collective tactics.


Media Contact

Rick Meza
Meza Law
(708) 321-4693

Olympia Fields, IL:  Aunt Martha’s Health and Wellness announced today that the UIC John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Legal Clinic has joined the organization’s continued effort to operate the state’s first and only children’s quarantine center for Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) youth in care affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UIC John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Legal Clinic will serve as co-counsel in a federal lawsuit filed by Aunt Martha’s on May 12 asserting that the Village of Midlothian has engaged in discriminatory actions in violation of the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

Emergency order prevents shuttering of quarantine center for DCFS kids

On May 27, the US District Court granted the organization’s request for an Emergency Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) prohibiting the Village from shutting down the Children’s Quarantine Center (CQC). Earlier this week it was extended for 60 days.

“Aunt Martha’s has always stood up for the most vulnerable members of the communities we serve, especially DCFS youth in care, most of whom are African American and Latino,” said Raul Garza, the agency’s President and CEO. “We believe there are important civil rights issues involved in this case, and we’re proud to have the Clinic’s team on our side in this effort.”

The Legal Team

As co-counsel, the Fair Housing Legal Clinic will offer its extensive fair housing related background and expertise in eliminating discriminatory practices and will help represent Aunt Martha’s in all aspects of this litigation.

Ricardo Meza of Meza Law will continue to serve as lead counsel. The Fair Housing Legal Clinic joins Roger Derstine of Roger B. Derstine, Chartered, Homero Tristan of Tristan & Cervantes, and Sohil Shah of Posinelli, PC as co-counsel.

About Aunt Martha’s Health and Wellness, Inc.

Aunt Martha’s serves over 105,000 children and adults each year. It has over 35 sites, including 23 community health centers spread across nine counties. The agency’s integrated health home model offers value-based, coordinated services that deliver whole person wellness through the integration of primary and behavioral health care, as well as links support services that address social determinants of health. Aunt Martha’s has been accredited by the Joint Commission since 1997.

About the UIC John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Legal Support Center and Clinic

The primary goals of UIC John Marshall’s Fair Housing Legal Support Center & Clinic are:

  • Educate the public about fair housing law, and
  • Provide legal assistance to those private or public organizations that seek to eliminate discriminatory housing practices.

The clinic opened in 1993. Since then it has helped thousands Chicago area clients who were denied housing because of discrimination. Funding for the Clinic is provided in part by a grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.


Media Contact

Rick Meza
Meza Law
(708) 321-4693

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