The joy Alan Eaks now experiences as an out gay man with a partner of 12 years and two adopted children certainly overshadows the issues he endured years ago.
Eaks, 56, is the CEO of Chicago Lakeshore Hospital, a position he has held for close to 13 yearsand he is admittedly "completely comfortable as an openly gay man in this field."
However, when he entered the hospital administration field in the early 1980s, the field "was not welcoming to the gay community," he said. "Partially due to my own maturity, and partially due to the non-friendly gay world that existed in those early years, I was somewhat closeted and protective of my gay identity. I feel so fortunate that I was able to come totally out over time due to the trail blazers who paved the way for me to live an open, transparent and dignified life as a gay man."
Eaks and life partner Alberto Senior live in Lakeview with their two children: Simon, 8; and Gabriel, 6, both of whom attend Nettelhorst School. Senior is a public relations and marketing executive with MillerCoors Company, based at its Chicago headquarters.
They are planning to marry in 2014.
"Being an openly gay man has a positive impact on the organization, especially in light of the hospital's commitment to serving the LGBTQ community through our Valeo Pride treatment programs," he said. "I know now that, in my early career, I was passed over for [advancement] opportunities due to my sexual orientation. At the time, it was subtle, but none the less apparent. Being gay probably led me to the behavioral health field because of my personal life experiences as a gay man [who] sensitized me to the similar experience of disenfranchisement and stigmatization that is so prevalent for those experiencing mental health issues. Honestly, I believe this makes me a better healthcare executive, and definitely seals my commitment to treating the needs of the LGBTQ community."
Eaks truly is a role model for the LGBT community, though he said the tag "seems daunting." However, he added, "I feel I am a mentor for others in the community and see myself making an impact in that way. In addition to being a mentor, I have always focused on living a life with dignity. Dignity for me means being a leader in my professional life, and conducting myself as a loving parent, son, brother and partner in my personal life."
Eaks is originally from Fort Worth, Texas, and attended Abilene Christian University and then graduate school at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. He has lived in Chicago since 1993.
He is one of many hospital employees living under the rainbow, along with support staff, nurses, therapists, social workers, psychiatrists and more. "It makes me proud to say that we are an extremely integrated, accepting and inclusive organization," he said.
It is all that plus welcoming to the LGBT community. The welcome is anchored in Valeo, a program that started about 20 years ago at Chicago Lakeshore Hospital. Originally called The Pride Institute, it was changed to Valeo several years ago for business reasons, he said.
"Valeo is a Latin word meaning 'to be well.' Valeo is a culturally competent and sensitive treatment program for those in our community struggling with psychiatric and addiction disorders," Eaks said. "It is so important to know that those seeking treatment are most often times experiencing the most stressful and difficult situation in their lives. The real value of the Valeo Program is that it provides a safe and non-judgmental environment for those in the LGBTQ community at this critical time. It is also important to note that most of our staff in the program identify as LGBT and come to the profession with a mission for serving others in the community."
Through Valeo, there are inpatient and outpatient services, including intensive outpatient programs, traditional psychotherapy and psychiatric medication management. "We will continue to support our Valeo program as long as it is still seen as a value in having a specialized program for our community," Eaks said. "Trust me, I long for the day that we feel safe in treatment wherever we go in the mainstream world of healthcare. Unfortunately for many, that day is not here yet, and [thus] we must provide safe environments, [so those in] our community can feel supported and validated while on the road to recovery."
Chicago Lakeshore Hospital, 4840 N. Marine Dr., collaborates and trains with other LGBTQ community partners, including Center on Halsted, Howard Brown Health Center, Chicago House, Safe Schools Alliance and TPAN ( Test Positive Aware Network ), Eaks said. In addition, "we seek out partnerships with these and other organizations for supportive aftercare programming upon discharge from our programs."
The hospital also treats adolescents with gender and sexual orientation issues. "We have developed a strong reputation for really working well with families to effectively deal with these emerging issues in their children," Eaks said.
Eaks said that the holiday season traditionally has been a time when many in the LGBT community deal with the stress of friends, family or isolation. "I think it is important that those faced with strained relationships and/or isolation prepare for the holidays in order to minimize the impact of these stressors on their mental health," he said. "Mental health professionals tell us that holiday blues are not uncommon for anyone, and does not necessarily mean you may be experiencing significant mental health issues. I think common sense should prevail for those facing stress during the holidays. Make a plan and [also] have a 'Plan B' if that original plan doesn't work out.
"Usually, taking control of the things we can control reduces stress. Obviously, if the stress is unmanageable, Chicago Lakeshore Hospital and our programs and services exist to help during these times. I encourage any and all who feel they need help to reach out."
The Chicago Lakeshore Hospital assessment center is open 24/7, 365 days a week and assessments are free. For a free assessment and referral, call 800-888-0560.