Sunday, April 29, 2012

Final Weeks

The past few weeks have been busy in my internship as well as in other classes, which is why I have been delayed in updating this blog.  Much of the last few weeks have involved more interviews, and tracking down contact information for individuals whom I would like to interview.  I had the opportunity to interview the remaining board members, including the president of the foundation a couple weeks ago, which provided me with some good quotes for the history paper I've been working on.

One of the most interesting interviews from the past few weeks was with one of the foundation consultants, who has worked with the foundation since the early 1990s.  As a nurse practitioner, she worked at a veterans hospital during this time as well as with AIDS patients.  While this doesn't sound unusual for a nurse now, it was rare for nurses to willingly work with AIDS patients in the early '90s, due to the limited knowledge available at the time about AIDS, and the social stigma against infected individuals.  Due to her experience with AIDS patients, she worked with the foundation to develop grants to fund a counseling center, housing for AIDS patients, and a hospice program, many of which were the first programs specifically for AIDS patients in the city.  Many of these projects were put into effect by working with Howard Brown, another foundation in Chicago.  Hearing about the other foundations that Washington Square has worked with in the community has broadened my understanding of the health care environment in Chicago.

Another aspect of the foundation's history that I learned about from several of the individuals that I interviewed was the foundation's largest grant, which funded the building of a P3 containment lab.  This is an extremely advanced, rare, and expensive type of laboratory that is used to study dangerous diseases.  For anyone who has seen the movie "Contagion", a P3 containment lab is similar to the lab seen in that movie to study viruses, where scientists must wear large, airtight suits to protect themselves from the virus that they are studying:

I was also able to do a little more archival work last week.  My boss found a folder in the office full of archives from Henrotin Hospital.  This was exciting because I had had trouble finding original documents from Henrotin earlier in the semester, because most of the hospital archives are currently stored at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.  The folder included pictures from when Henrotin Hospital was being demolished, and annual reports from the early 1980s.  The annual reports were interesting because they provided me with information about the people who actually worked at Henrotin hospital, and the patient population that was served.  From these reports, I was also able to see how the relationship with Northwestern Memorial Hospital started.  In the 1983 report, it was indicated that a relationships with Northwestern would soon commence, but it was made clear that the board had no intention of selling the hospital to Northwestern.  It was interesting to see this because the hospital ended up being sold two years later.

I plan on continuing my history internship with Washington Square throughout the summer, as I continue to engage in research and work on writing about the foundation's history.  Having finished interviewing the board members, my focus will now turn to interviewing individuals from other organizations who have received grants from Washington Square in the past.  I have an interview scheduled with one grantee this week, and with the CEO of another organization next week.  I have learned a lot from this experience, and acquired many new skills that will definitely be useful in the future.  I'm excited to continue working on the project this summer!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Week 10

This week, I was able to interview three more people for the history project.  Tuesday morning, I met with someone who was one of the key players in the sale of Henrotin Hospital in the '80s.  I met him at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he has been employed since before the sale.  This interview was interesting because he gave his recollection of the purchase of the hospital from Northwestern's point of view.

At the time of the sale, Northwestern and Henrotin Hospitals, which were only a few blocks away from each other, competed for patients.  Henrotin also had an excellent sports medicine program, among other programs, which Northwestern was hoping could be incorporated into the Northwestern Memorial Hospital system.  Northwestern was also competing with nearby Rush Presbyterian hospital, so it was in the Northwestern's best interest to purchase Henrotin.  While some of the individuals I have spoken to who were involved with Henrotin Hospital at the time of the sale have explained their feelings of shock and disappointment upon hearing of the closing of the hospital, the individual I interviewed from Northwestern gave a different opinion.  He explained that Northwestern had planned on keeping the hospital open much longer than they did, but ultimately made the decision to close after experiencing heavy financial losses for the last 12 months the hospital was open.  He explained that Northwestern did as much as they could to incorporate the Henrotin Hospital employees into Northwestern's system, but received criticism from the Henrotin Hospital medical staff.

The second person I interviewed this week was a lawyer hired by Washington Square to deal with the legal details of converting the foundation from a public to a private charity after the closure of the hospital.  Due to his legal involvement in the foundation, Washington Square became one of the first health care conversion foundations in the country.

The last person I interviewed this week started the Washington Square scholarship program in the late '80s.  As a new foundation at this time, the foundation needed a way to break into the grant-giving scene, and gain awareness for the foundation.  Giving scholarships to medical and nursing students provided a relatively easy way to do this.  There was also a shortage of nurses in the early '90s, so the scholarship program provided a way to directly respond to Chicago's health care needs.

The individuals I spoke to this week provided me with a lot of useful information to continue writing the history of the foundation, so I look forward to working more on the writing portion next week.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Week 9

This week was very productive in terms of setting up interviews.  I set up three interviews, and was able to acquire contact information for most of the remaining individuals I had originally planned on interviewing.  I also had an impromptu phone interview with one of the other board members on Friday.

The board member that I spoke with on Friday was not an original board member, but has been with the foundation for nearly 20 years, so had a good outlook on how the foundation has evolved.  He discussed several important projects that the foundation has funded that have been especially significant.  The project that was most interesting to me was an emergency room study that was conducted.  This study resulted in changes made in ER wait times and efficiency not only in Chicago, but throughout the country.  In addition, he discussed a recent food pantry initiative funded by Washington Square.  This project is significant because it is the first time the foundation has funded a food bank, indicating a broadening of funding areas in public health.

Below is an older photograph of some of the past and present members of the Board of Directors of Washington Square:

I'm looking forward to the next few interviews, and hoping that they will help me develop a more complete understanding of certain aspects of the foundation's history.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Week 8

This past week, I continued to work on the interviewing part of the project.  However, I ran into some difficulties as far as contacting certain individuals.  The next person I had planned on interviewing was one of the original board members of the foundation, but resigned in the 1980s.  However, he played a crucial role in some of legal details and planning of the future of the foundation.

While the last person I interviewed is a current foundation board member, and therefore relatively easy to contact, the next person I am hoping to interview did not have current contact information in the office.  The last contact information we had for this individual was from when he was a board member, and also ran a retail consulting firm in Chicago.  I tried contacting this firm, but found that he was no longer employeed there.  After doing a google search, I was able to find an Evanstons address for someone of the same name.  While I had emailed the first person to set up an interview, it looks like I will have to rely on snail mail for this one, since I wasn't able to find a phone number, email, or any other information.

I'm hoping that I will be able to get in contact with this person, and I hope it will be easier to track down the rest of the individuals that I interview!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Week 7

After going home to Ann Arbor, Michigan for a few days for spring break, I came back to Chicago on Wednesday and spent some time working on the history project.  This week, I conducted my first interview with a board member of the foundation.  The board member that I interviewed was originally on the board of directors at Henrotin Hospital, and has been with the foundation the longest.

I started the interview with asking him about the sale and closure of the hospital, and his reaction to these events.  He emphasized his and the board's disappointment upon hearing about the plans to close the hospital.  At the time of the sale of the hospital, Northwestern Memorial Group had led the board of Henrotin to believe that they would keep the hospital open for much longer than they did, so their decision to close the hospital was shocking to the board members.  Their main concern was that the 400-600 hospital employees would lose their jobs, although some of these employees ended up being incorporated into Northwestern's Hospital system.

He also discussed some of the foundation's initial planning, and the thought process that went into developing the foundation's mission statement.  He said that although the board members of the foundation largely agreed that the acquired funds should be used to promote access to healthcare, there was a level of uncertainty on how to implement these funds.

Interviewing a board member was interesting because I was able to hear how the events early in the foundation's history unfolded from another perspective.  It also gave me better ideas about what to ask the next individuals that I'll be interviewing, and helped me to add more specific information to the written part of the project.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Week 6

This week's focus was beginning to coordinate the interview portion of the project.  Several weeks ago, I made a list of individuals that my boss suggested would be good people to interview to learn more about the foundation's history.  This week, we decided on the first group of people to be contacted to set up an interview.  All four of the first group to be selected are individuals who played an important role in the beginning of the foundation-- the selling of Henrotin Hospital to Northwestern Memorial Group, the closing of the hospital, the conversion of the foundation from public to private, etc.

The first person I contacted this week was on the board of Henrotin Hospital before it was sold, and is currently the foundation's longest-standing board member.  We have a phone interview set up for next week, so I have been thinking of questions to ask him.  Having never interviewed anyone before, and never met one of the foundation's board members before, I'm a little nervous.  Most of my questions are focused on the first few years of the foundation, because he is the only board member who witnessed the creation of the foundation first-hand.  While I have read some of the minutes for the earliest foundation board meetings, I am hoping he can help clarify and give his own view of the process of decision making that went into starting the foundation.

The other individuals that I plan on contacting soon for an interview include two people who worked for Northwestern Memorial Group and were involved in the purchase of the hospital, and one of the original board members of the foundation who was involved in some of the legal details of the creation of the foundation, but has since resigned. 

I'm looking forward to finally starting the interview process, and hoping it goes well!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Week 5

Oh, technology.  In a time when smart phones and iPads are seemingly everywhere, it is easy to forget about some of the bigger, bulkier devices that existed not too long ago.  This week, I found a collection of microfiches that had to be read using a microfilm reader.

This machine was considered high tech when it was first purchased by the foundation, probably about 20 years ago.  Having never read microfiches before, I had to learn how to use a different type of technology that I hadn't encountered before.  The microfilm reader turned out to be pretty easy to use, and the microfiches that I found in the office turned out to have a lot of valuable information.  So, old technology can still come in handy!

Some of the information i found in the several boxes of microfiches in the office included the earliest board meeting minutes and detailed information on the first grants to be given by the foundation.  The board minutes included personal opinions of the board members on the purpose of the foundation, and what types of projects should be funded.  This was especially interesting to me because, up until this point, a lot of the research I had done had been focused on the legal details of the sale of Henrotin Hospital.  Learning more about the feelings of the individuals directly involved in the activities of the foundation provided a new aspect to the foundation's history.

While some of the original board members wanted to wait a few years before giving grants out, in order to save money and learn more about the public health needs in Chicago, other board members had specific ideas in mind in terms of which types of projects to fund.  Several of the board members wanted to focus on giving grants for medical education.  Others wanted the grants to focus on capital equipment for Henrotin Hospital (which still existed at this point).

I still have a lot more of the microfiches to get through, but I'm excited to see what other information I can find from them!