At Aunt Martha's Health and Wellness, the door is open to everyone

If you're a toddler or a senior, if you're coping with illness or a mental health issue, if you have insurance or if you don't, the doctor or nurse is in at Aunt Martha's Health and Wellness.

“Come through the door, and we'll figure it out,” says Graciela Guzmán, director of policy and advocacy for the community health care and child welfare provider.

Aunt Martha's was among several agencies that received a $10,000 grant from the Daily Herald Neighbors in Need fund established last year in cooperation with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. Daily Herald readers donated $36,000 to the fund, which the McCormick Foundation matched at 50 cents on the dollar to address homelessness, hunger and health care access in the suburbs.

“We do not deny anyone care, regardless of income or immigration status,” said Franca Liburdi, senior vice president for health operations at Aunt Martha's, which serves more than 125,000 mostly low-income clients and patients, of which about one-third are uninsured.

“If we can't help you, we'll help you find the answer,” she said.

Aunt Martha's health centers serve more than 650 Illinois communities, including Palatine, Aurora, Carpentersville and Chicago. The centers accept insurance. Those who are underinsured or have no insurance are charged on a sliding fee schedule based on federal poverty guidelines.

The agency dates back to 1972, when founder Gary Leofanti and some volunteers (one of whom had an Aunt Martha) established a youth drop-in center in Park Forest. By the mid-1980s, the organization had expanded into child welfare and foster care, offering both family planning and counseling services, said President and CEO Raul Garza.

Around that time, Leofanti and his colleagues recognized the need within communities for integrated care.

Today, Aunt Martha's is a Federally Qualified Health Center, licensed by the Department of Children and Family Services. It provides primary health care with counseling, psychiatric services, dental care, COVID-19 testing, vaccines and other services. The organization operates 35 health centers, including the Little City Health Center in Palatine and two Aurora locations that have served 7,956 clients to date this year. The Palatine facility has served 207 patients.

In addition to health care, Aunt Martha's remains committed to child welfare. To that end, the Daily Herald/McCormick Foundation grant went to purchase tables, chairs, two large-screen televisions and a pingpong table for Aunt Martha's Reporting Center in Palos Heights, which serves juvenile offenders ages 10 to 19 who are awaiting hearings. They're referred to the short-term program by Cook County Juvenile Court judges, probation officers, prosecutors and public defenders in lieu of incarceration at the juvenile detention center. Aunt Martha's also operates reporting centers in Evanston and Park Forest.

Among the organization's accomplishments is providing care at a reasonable price. The cost per patient is 33% below the Illinois average and 48% below the national average for similar federally qualified centers. Annually, health care center costs average about $1,100 per patient nationally and $900 in Illinois. Aunt Martha's provides care for about $600 annually, Garza said.

Aunt Martha's has a responsibility to maximize the state and federal funding it receives, said Garza, adding “if we're doing the right thing and everyone's getting healthier, the cost of care should be reduced.”

Most clients and patients learn about the centers through word-of-mouth, Liburdi said.

“People feel comfortable,” she said. “This is their medical home.”

The centers operate as any medical office. Patients typically make appointments, but walk-ins are welcome. They are staffed by physicians, nurse-practitioners and nurses and operate in partnership with community hospitals.

“We pride ourselves on being a provider of choice,” Guzmán. “We're making sure we're here and continuing to do what we do well.”

  Aunt Martha's health center on Algonquin Road in Palatine. Paul Valade/
  Franca Liburdi is the senior vice president of health operations for Aunt Martha's Health and Wellness. Paul Valade/
  Aunt Martha's health center has a desensitization space for its clients at the Palatine facility. Paul Valade/
  At its Palatine location, Aunt Martha's Health and Wellness president and CEO Raul Garza talks about the history of the organization, which provides community health and child welfare services. Paul Valade/
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