Open Door Health Center in turmoil with unpaid bills, absent board

  • More than 20 staff members, clients and funders tried to attend a meeting of the board of Open Door Health Center in Elgin, only to find an empty room.

      More than 20 staff members, clients and funders tried to attend a meeting of the board of Open Door Health Center in Elgin, only to find an empty room. Rick West | Staff Photographer

Updated 2/28/2020 6:57 PM

Staff members of Open Door Health Center of Illinois said the nonprofit is in chaos with clients not getting services, unpaid bills mounting and no budget for 2020, which they attributed to mismanagement by its leaders and the board of directors.

More than 20 staff members, clients and funders of the Elgin-based agency tried to attend a board meeting Wednesday evening, only to find an empty room. As a result, they said, they decided to speak publicly about their concerns, including questions about allocation of grant funds.


"We have a board that is inept and inappropriate. We have no clear organizational structure, and we have a leadership that I believe is incompetent," said Bryan Gooding, manager of special programs.

Jena Brauer, housing program coordinator, said there are many questions about last month's appointment of former board President LaJuan Baines as the new director of business operations.

"We wanted to maybe get some answers about what their plans are to keep the agency going. That's what we wanted to accomplish -- to be heard and to have a dialogue," she said.

Others who spoke with the Daily Herald are Jacob Harshbarger, manager of marketing and communications; Sharon Marach, medical case manager; Lynne Kennedy, facility manager; Drake Potter, grants coordinator; Jennifer Genzlinger, case manager coordinator; Teresa Rubio and Samantha Noble, housing case managers; Jay Bowling, medical case manager; Debra Ranieri, accounts receivable coordinator; Elena Alvarado, case manager; and Karina Rubio, outreach and prevention educator.

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The agency has offices in Elgin, Aurora, DeKalb and Joliet, and focuses on clients with HIV and on serving the LGBTQ community. The nonprofit serves about 1,500 clients per year with an annual budget of about $5 million. Staff members said the problems started last summer.

More than a dozen staff members have been let go or resigned since former Executive Director Perry Maier left in November and Medical Director Zeba Geloo was named interim executive director.

Baines and Geloo didn't return requests for comment, nor did board members Shumeca Bonds, Jeri Dixon, Rey Rodriguez and Dave Yusuf.

Two board members resigned this month: Kirsten Nilson said she completed her three-year commitment, and Mark Gomez cited increased responsibilities at his day job. Board President Glen McDade resigned Wednesday evening. "I don't want to talk to you," he told the Daily Herald when reached by phone.

The Illinois attorney general's office, which is investigating complaints by staff members, didn't return a request for comment.

Staff members allege numerous problems, such as late rent payments for clients in the HIV/AIDS housing program, about $56,000 owed for dental services in spite of a grant earmarked for that purpose, failed payment of a storage unit, mileage expenses not being reimbursed, and no plans for the annual spring fundraiser.


The behavioral team quit, so clients are being referred to other agencies for psychiatry and counseling services, which have long waits, they said.

Bryant Neal said his Elgin cleaning business is owed $12,000.

Geloo sent an email to agency funders this week saying she was stepping down as interim executive director to focus on her role as medical director.

"We are doing our very best to meet the deliverables and are closer than ever before to creating a more transparent organization which is fully committed to serving the vulnerable patients of Kane County," she wrote.

Geloo, hired last summer, also wrote in the email that in her review of the nonprofit's operations, she found issues such as a new medication prescribed to patients against FDA guidelines at the time, checks written without invoices or contracts, and close to $1 million lost due to a pharmacy contract.

Staff members said they were surprised to hear that.

"It leaves the agency very open to questions, unfounded at this point, and made by someone who is not familiar with working with HIV-specific care," Brauer said.

Mike Maginn of the Illinois Public Health Association, which granted Open Door $325,000 for HIV prevention this fiscal year, was among those who were stood up by the board Wednesday.

"We will try to set up a new meeting with the new leadership, whoever they are. If they can't prove their solvency and adequately perform their grant obligations, we might end up having to move those dollars to another provider," he said. "(Open Door) has been around for 43 years. For it to be falling apart in three months with this new leadership, that needs to be addressed."

Louis Hobson of Naperville, who serves as chairman of Open Door's client advisory committee, said the committee wants the board to resign and that it is considering filing a lawsuit.

"My main concern is the lack of and deteriorating of services for the clients, especially the mental health program and the oral health program," which might jeopardize future funding, he said. "If we don't get the funding and some other organization gets it, there is a huge community of people that live in the Western suburbs that don't have a place to go for HIV care."


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