April 1, 2021

Heartland Health Centers Appoints Nicole Willis as Chief Executive Officer

Nicole Willis-headshot

Nine months after becoming interim CEO as the COVID-19 pandemic spiked, Heartland Health Centers’ board confirmed Nicole Willis as its next leader.

As Chief Executive Officer of Heartland Health Centers, a Federally Qualified Health Center, Willis will oversee 18 locations serving Chicago’s North and Northwest sides, near northern suburbs and beyond. Her main focus will be to guarantee access to high-quality holistic primary care in a medical home that also provides dental, behavioral and integrative care for some 30,000 patients. A third of all patients are best served in a language other than English.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to serve Heartland Health Centers as Chief Executive Officer,” Willis said. “We have built a unique culture of compassion for our patients and each other. We should be very proud of our accomplishments together during one of the most difficult times in recent history and I know that we are re-emerging even stronger.”

The board engaged in a national search for a CEO with the national search firm Kittleman & Associates to identify finalists for the position before selecting Willis, according to board Chair Phillip Dothard and Vice Chair and search committee chair Thomas Serafine.

“Being involved in the selection of a candidate like Nicole has been one of the highlights of my tenure at Heartland Health Centers,” said Board Chair Phillip Dothard. “She has proven during her time as interim that she brings the tenacity, thought leadership, and fresh perspective to propel us forward as a vital and competitive organization.”

Serafine echoed Dothard’s enthusiasm. “Nicole has the experience, vision and determination to advance our mission of providing quality healthcare to more underserved patients in our community,” he said. “She has done a remarkable job guiding us during the pandemic, ensuring that our patients receive access to COVID-19 testing and vaccines along with ongoing care via in-person visits and expanded Telehealth services.”

Under Willis’ leadership, Heartland Health Centers implemented remote patient care services, providing 65% of patient visits via Telehealth–double the average for local and national FQHCs. Willis also executed drive-thru and community COVID testing services to meet the needs of health center patients and others within HHC’s service area, and maintained 95% of pre-pandemic patient volumes compared to other Illinois FQHCs.

In addition to serving as HHC’s Interim CEO, Willis has over 20 years of experience in the health care industry in a variety of clinical and operations roles in both large academic and community-based health care organizations.

Willis joined Heartland Health Centers in 2018 as Director of Community Health Centers and became Vice President of Operations in 2019. Her clinical background is in respiratory care with a focus on population health and respiratory disease management. Prior to Heartland Health Centers, she held various management and clinical positions including Manager of Respiratory Care and Pulmonary Services at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Willis holds an MBA from Robert Morris Graduate School and a B.S. from Howard University. Her professional and civic affiliations include the Illinois Society of Respiratory Care; Illinois Primary Health Care Association; National Association of Community Health Centers; and American Association for Respiratory Care.
Willis will assume her responsibilities as CEO of Heartland Health Centers on April, 4, 2021.

Kittleman & Associates is a national executive search firm that specializes in the recruitment of CEOs for tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, public charities and philanthropic organizations. Kittleman recruits leaders for the entire nonprofit sector including health care, professional and medical associations, foundations, education, and advocacy organizations. 

Heartland Health Centers improves the well-being of the communities it serves by providing accessible, high quality healthcare. In 2020, Heartland Health Centers provided 27,000 patients with affordable and comprehensive primary care, oral health care, and behavioral health care services.