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Howard Brown and Gerber/Hart to partner on North Side facility
by Matt Simonette

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Officials from Howard Brown Health Center (HBHC) and Gerber/Hart Library and Archives, on Sept. 29, announced that HBHC will open a clinic at 6500 N. Clark St.—the address where Gerber/Hart has been the sole tenant since 2013.

HBHC will occupy all the unused spaces in the Rogers Park building, which Clark Point Properties owns. Gerber/Hart's lease has been assigned to HBHC, effectively making the health organization the library's landlord.

According to HBHC President/CEO David Munar and Gerber/Hart Board President Carrie Barnett, the arrangement provides numerous mutual advantages for both organizations. For HBHC, it means that patients from Rogers Park, Edgewater and nearby neighborhoods will have easier access to its facilities, and space limitations will be eased at its Uptown and Lake View clinics. For Gerber/Hart, it means wider visibility and increased foot traffic in a location that is off the beaten path for many.

"This is the best situation we could have wanted," said Barnett. "Aside from taking over the building ourselves, which I admit we wanted to do. But we couldn't ask for better people to be partners with."

The 15,000-square-foot facility is tentatively expected to open with four exam rooms by the end of 2015; eight additional exam rooms are expected to be added over the course of the following 18-24 months, provided the clinic hits its benchmark numbers of patients. A full litany of services, including primary medical care, behavioral health services, STI/HIV screening and treatment and social services are expected by early 2016. There will also be a pharmacy, meeting room and space for social functions.

Besides continuing to operate its library, archives and exhibition areas, Gerber/Hart will organize exhibits in HBHC's public spaces, Barnett explained, adding, "It allows us to show our archival material, but also speaks to the patients in this environment, in a way that can be something more than looking at a People Magazine."

"Our hope is that the relationship creates a seamless experience for people who visit the building," Munar noted. "The cultural activities in the library and archive are kind of embedded in the clinical and wellness activities that we have downstairs."

Gerber/Hart has a new volunteer coordinator and will be undergoing heavy recruitment of volunteers, which will be needed as the library expands its hours. The organization also continues to look for a new executive director.

Rogers Park is an extremely diverse part of the city, and Munar said that its demographics fit in well with HBHC's mission.

"There's a thriving LGBT community and it's increasingly a cultural hub," he said. "Our mission is to serve individuals who are medically underserved. Rogers Park has high rates of uninsurance, health disparities and poverty. There's documented unmet need. It's also important because we've grown significantly in our two clinics—last year we saw a 25-percent increase in patients, expanded our workforce and hours and added examination rooms, but we're about at capacity in those sites."

Each week, about 50-70 individuals seek services at HBHC for the first time, Munar added.

"For folks at this northern tip of the city, it will be more convenient to get here, and when folks need more timely appointments, this will give us another option and open our schedule at the other two clinics," he added. "When we were named a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), we had to designate a service area, and for us that area was the Red Line corridor from Howard to Diversey. Our goal is to eventually diversify into other parts of the city as well."

Munar and Barnett said the organizations had been in talks for a year and had been prepared to move ahead with the plan even had HBHC not gotten an FQHC designation, which it did receive this summer.

"Being given that was a huge stamp of approval from the feds, and given our rocky history, that was like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval," Munar said.

"We like to think of ourselves as the organizations with rocky pasts that are emerging from the ashes together," added Barnett, laughing. "But the visibility this will bring us is significant, and will only enhance our ability to provide our services to the community. Having this partnership will remind people that Gerber/Hart is alive and well."

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