May 22, 2020

CEO Gwenn Rausch retiring after decade ensuring ‘healthcare from the heart’

Gwenn speaking at a podium for Get Covered Illinois event

Photo: At the end of 2018, Rausch joined U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, state Rep. Robyn Gabel, and other community leaders to promote opportunities to gain insurance via the Affordable Care Act.

When Gwenn Rausch joined Heartland Health Centers in April 2010, 30 staff and a handful of doctors and other medical providers cared for several thousand patients, she recalls. As she prepares to retire July 2, some 30,000 patients a year access high-quality primary care provided by a staff of 220 including 60 medical providers at 17 school, community, and specialty clinics in medically underserved communities on the North and Northwest sides, Skokie, and beyond.

“Gwenn has been an incredible leader in providing affordable, quality health care throughout the district and the Chicagoland area,” U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky said. “Under her leadership Heartland Heath Centers has expanded, and they provide essential health services to vulnerable and diverse populations including immigrants and refugees, provide dental and behavioral health services in addition to primary health care, and run excellent school-based clinics like the one at my alma-mater, Sullivan High School.”

‘Timing is right;’ Interim to be appointed

“I could not have imagined that the work as a leader of a community health center would be so challenging and at the same time so rewarding,” says Rausch.  The timing for the change is right, she adds, due to the strong leadership team in place around her.

With Gwenn’s leadership over the past decade we built a system that works for our patients, families and communities,” Board Chair Phillip Dothard said. “Our work has been recognized with awards and accreditations but most importantly, she’s built a team of leaders around her at the board and staff levels to carry on that mission.”

Nicole Willis, VP-Operations, will serve as the interim CEO effective July 1.

Healthcare from the Heart

Heartland Health Centers patients include immigrants and refugees and those on low budgets: 1 in 3 are best served in a language other than English and 90% fall below the federal poverty threshold.

While ensuring patients’ access to primary care from prenatal to school physicals to geriatrics, Rausch has led a drive to provide care that is anything but bare bones. “Healthcare from the heart” — a slogan Rausch said was inspired by a patient and former board member of the nonprofit — sums up her vision of providing quality care to some of the most challenging patients.

Most recently that has included free, drive-thru COVID-19 testing and serving more than 5,000 patients via telehealth since April. Rausch and Heartland Health Centers have also made a name for high-quality, holistic care.

Examples include 4 high and 3 elementary school-based health clinics (among the most operated by one agency in the state), making behavioral care easily available, expanded dentistry, services for people with substance use disorder, and a focus on hiring board-certified medical providers to staff all clinics.

It also has included a focus on innovation, most notably integrated primary care partnerships with local community mental health centers Thresholds, Trilogy Behavioral Health Care, Turning Point and Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, C4 . The team-based care partnerships have helped patients with mental illness experience weight loss, smoking cessation, improved blood pressure and increased satisfaction with their care.

“Gwenn shares a vision for the future that fully integrates behavioral and physical healthcare,” said Mark Ishaug, CEO of Thresholds. “Our work together on integrated care has laid the groundwork for a new way of caring for a population with complex challenges. We at Thresholds are grateful for her commitment to this work.”

Also testifying to the focus on quality are the agency’s board-certified medical providers, Joint Commission accreditation for Ambulatory Care and certification as a Primary Care Medical Home, plus repeated Quality Leader awards from the federal government.

Rausch joined Heartland Health Centers in April 2010 after a career in occupational therapy, planning and Psychiatry Services at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and elsewhere led her to roles in operational leadership, including as Chief Operating Officer at St. Anthony Hospital. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Weiss Hospital Chicago. She is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives and has served in many Committee roles for the Illinois Primary Health Care Association.

Gwenn with Phillip Dothard Board Chair. Gwenn introduced at opening of Gale School SBHC - crowd shot

Photos: Board Chair Phillip Dothard and Rausch; Rausch spoke at the opening of our newest SMART care clinic at Gale Community Academy.