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Mujeres, Esperanza announce new health center in Brighton Park
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Mujeres Latinas en AcciÃ"n ( Mujeres ), in partnership with Esperanza Health Centers ( Esperanza ), has now opened a new health center in Brighton Park.

"When Mujeres opens its space in Brighton Park, it will bring all of its programs and services," said Mujeres Development Director Gil Zamora shortly before the May 20 opening. "These include therapy, counseling, legal and medical case management for domestic and sexual violence survivors. Mujeres also has prevention and community education on intimate partner violence and sexual assault, so we will work with Esperanza and other Brighton Park organizations and schools so [that] residents are well-informed on these topics."

The facility has a parent support program, as well as the Empresarias Del Futuro ( Entrepreneurs of Future ) program, which trains and helps women looking to open their own small business as well as community engagement and mobilization and Latina leadership programs.

"The area around Brighton Park has long faced a dearth of primary care and behavioral health services," said Esperanza External Affairs Vice President Ricardo Cifuentes. "This need has become even greater as more people move into the Southwest Side, many of them Latinos displaced from gentrifying neighborhoods farther north.

"In response, Esperanza's CEO and other members of the health center's leadership launched a series of neighborhood listening sessions in 2015, which eventually led to the development of our current Brighton Park Center—a 26,000-square-foot facility that will house 30 exam rooms, on-site lab and pharmacy, counseling rooms, a large community room and teaching kitchen for health programming and community events, a playground and more."

Cifuentes, who has been with Esperanza since June 2016, said the center will have the same health and wellness programs that are at their three existing sites: family medicine, OB/GYN, internal medicine, pediatrics, behavioral health, psychiatry and more. He explained that there will also be a medication-assisted treatment program for opioid and alcohol addiction and Project SALSA program to expand HIV prevention efforts with education initiatives and access to PrEP prescriptions.

"Early on in the planning process, it became clear that partnering with a social services organization in the clinical setting could help us better coordinate care for our patients," said Cifuentes. "Mujeres was an obvious choice for us from the start. With a patient population that is 59 percent women and girls, and multiple programs already in place to meet their health and wellness needs, Esperanza was looking for a partner that could greatly enhance our ability to better serve our patients."

Both Zamora and Cifuentes bring many years of experience in the non-profit sector to their respective roles at Mujeres and Esperanza. Zamora previously worked at HealthConnect One and was an AmeriCorps member at Jumpstart in San Francisco; he joined Mujeres last spring. Cifuentes' career has included stints at Renaissance Social Services and Legal Council for Health Justice ( formerly AIDS Legal Council of Chicago ).

Zamora, who oversees the organization's funding streams, said what drew him to Mujeres was their commitment to domestic and sexual violence survivors safety and healing. He was also drawn to the organization's dedication to Latina leadership development. Cifuentes' role involves fundraising, development, marketing and policy goals.

Esperanza was founded in 2004 to serve the primarily the low-income, Latinx neighborhood of South Lawndale, on Chicago's West Side. Since then, the organization's reach has grown to encompass multiple neighborhoods on Chicago's Southwest Side. Cifuentes said almost every one of the 140-plus member staff is bilingual in Spanish and English.

"As a Federally Qualified Health Center, Esperanza serves all people, regardless of income, immigration status or insurance status," said Cifuentes. "In 2016 and 2017, Esperanza received a National Quality Leader Award from the Health Resources and Services Administration placing it among the top three percent of community health centers in the country. Last year Esperanza scored even better, racking up more top-quartile rankings in quality metrics than any other community health center in the country. Now we are working to bring these homegrown, quality programs to Brighton Park."

In addition to this new health center, Zamora said Mujeres has made a commitment this past year to spread the word about the #MeToo/#YoTambien movement because 90 percent of its clients had never heard the of the hashtag. Mujeres hosted 12 Sexual Assault Awareness Month events last April; this year, there were 15 such events.

Zamora said Mujeres is not limited to Latina cis-women; they also welcome clients across the gender and sexuality spectrum. Cifuentes added that Esperanza's goal is to provide the highest quality of bilingual care in a welcoming environment. Both Zamora and Cifuentes said they are looking forward to seeing this new health center open so Brighton Park and the surrounding neighborhoods will have these needed services nearby.

"Esperanza Health Center and Mujeres Latinas en AcciÃ"n are both well-known and respected for their community programs of the highest quality," said Mujeres President and CEO Linda X. Tortolero. "This center will be a community oasis for health, well-being and recreation."

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