Changes at Open Door Health Center in Elgin alarm some staff members

  • Open Door Health Center of Illinois in Elgin is in turmoil after the executive director abruptly left last month, and some staff members worry new leaders plan to shift its focus away from serving clients with HIV and the LGBTQ community.

      Open Door Health Center of Illinois in Elgin is in turmoil after the executive director abruptly left last month, and some staff members worry new leaders plan to shift its focus away from serving clients with HIV and the LGBTQ community. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted12/12/2019 5:33 AM

A sudden change in leadership with unclear plans for the future has alarmed some staff members at Elgin-based Open Door Health Center of Illinois.

The executive director, Perry Maier, abruptly left last month and the medical director, Zeba Geloo, is serving as interim executive director. Maier didn't respond to requests for comment.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Open Door, which also has an office in Aurora, employs more than 50 people and focuses on serving clients with HIV and the LGBTQ community. Some staff members said Geloo and board President LaJuan Baines want to open services to the general public, and that would be detrimental to current clients and violate current funding agreements.

Geloo and Baines acknowledged to the Daily Herald that there will be changes, but they said the desire to expand the client base is not new. For example, a family practice was previously added, they said.

"We want to support all medically vulnerable people," Geloo said.

As for violating funding agreements, the agency has both restricted and unrestricted funding, with the latter not tied to HIV, Baines said.

The Daily Herald spoke with seven staff members on condition of anonymity because they feared losing their jobs. They said they have no human resources director to turn to, because the last one quit last month.

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The AIDS Foundation of Chicago, among the major funders of Open Door at $900,000, takes seriously any unexpected leadership change, said John Peller, its president and CEO.

"While AFC-funded services are currently secure, we are in discussions with Open Door Health Center leadership to ensure the partnership and the agency's future is strong," he said.

Another major funder is the Chicago Department of Public Health, whose spokeswoman, Elena Ivanova, said Open Door is in compliance for contracted services. The department awarded Open Door about $270,000 for housing opportunities for people living with HIV and AIDS and $581,000 for a "population center health home," Ivanova said.

Open Door staff members said Geloo and Baines have told them the nonprofit is in dire financial straits. Some work-issued credit cards have been taken away and routine expenses need prior approval, they said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But Geloo and Baines downplayed any financial issues to the Daily Herald.

"We are here for the staff. The organization isn't going to go downhill," Baines said.

"Since we are an interim leadership, it would not be responsible for us to authorize expenses without getting a full handle on what our current financials are," Geloo said. "This is a nonprofit organization that's heavily grant-funded. Of course at any point in time, it's not going to be a cash-rich organization. You have to behave in a fiscally responsible manner."

Geloo was hired in June and Baines was elected board president in October.

Former board President Carolyn Fabian said the agency started contracting with an accounting firm earlier this year, and the board was not made aware of any financial problems.

"I am sure the accounting firm would have red-flagged anything that we were bleeding," she said.

The latest 990 tax form available for Open Door from 2016 shows $4.6 million in revenues and $4.1 million in expenses.

Fabian said the nonprofit's succession plan calls for the assistant director to take the interim position until a new executive director is named, but that plan was not followed.

Staff members said they have reached out to the Illinois attorney general's office to share their concerns. The office didn't immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.

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