To improve the health of the people and communities we serve


To be the health system people choose over all others

Dear Friends,

As we look back on 2020, it’s easy to focus on hardship and uncertainty. But I’d also like to remember 2020 as a year when our health system and our entire region united to face the challenges before us.

In 2019, Memorial Health System introduced a new organizational structure to enable us to work more effectively as a system and share our resources. In 2020, as we mobilized to fight COVID-19, the benefits of that new structure quickly became evident. We were able to respond to the pandemic as one system rather than a series of separate affiliates, providing our patients with the safest, highest-quality care. At the same time, we partnered with other healthcare organizations across our communities to coordinate our response and ensure the public had accurate, timely information.

Most of all, though, I’m proud of our colleagues, who persevered in our mission despite significant and unprecedented challenges. In the following pages, you’ll read about how colleagues from every part of our organization stepped up to respond to this once-in-a-generation healthcare crisis. Their tireless efforts to care for those affected by the virus and protect our region inspired me and countless others this year.

During 2020, many Americans came to realize what we at Memorial Health System have always known: healthcare professionals are truly heroes. Thank you to everyone who cared for our patients and supported our communities during the past year.

Dean E. Robert Jr. Chair, Board of Directors Memorial Health System
Edgar J. Curtis President and Chief Executive Officer Memorial Health System

March 14, 2020: the day everything changed.

For weeks, teams across Memorial Health System had been preparing for the arrival of an illness so new that it had only received a name a month earlier: COVID-19.

On the afternoon of Saturday, March 14, MHS leaders gathered with their peers from other local healthcare organizations at a news conference announcing that Memorial Medical Center was treating the first known patient hospitalized with COVID-19 in central Illinois. Over the next few hours and days, all those careful plans became a reality as Memorial responded to what had become a global pandemic—a crisis on a scale that no one living had ever experienced.

An unprecedented challenge called for out-of-the-box thinking. Respiratory clinics sprang up literally overnight to test and treat anxious patients. Colleagues sidelined by the cancellation of elective procedures were redeployed to new roles. Providers began using telehealth to connect with patients. Our health system and the entire region came together to care for the sick and slow the spread of the virus during an unprecedented and unforgettable year.

Prepared for a Safe Arrival

Tavia Hill, 26, had just been furloughed from her job as a dental hygienist in March when she learned that a co-worker had tested positive for COVID-19. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, that call would have been unsettling enough—but the fact that Tavia was also nine months pregnant with her first child added an extra layer of alarm. She called her doctor and was immediately tested for the virus. She wasn’t experiencing any symptoms other than shortness of breath, which she attributed to the late months of pregnancy.

On a Saturday, she learned she had tested positive. For 13 days she isolated at home before her contractions began, and then she headed to Decatur Memorial Hospital to deliver her baby. The team at DMH had updated their protocols in preparation for the arrival of COVID-19-positive mothers-to-be.

“I was super nervous because nobody could be there with me,” Tavia said. “But I received great care here. They didn’t make it a scary experience at all—although the nurses did look like astronauts!”

That astronaut look resulted from the N95 masks and powered air-purifying respirators the staff wore when interacting with Tavia. She delivered her baby in a negative-pressure room, meaning there was no air exchange that could risk contaminating other rooms. She was also assigned her own specific nurses for the day and night shifts. “My day nurse was awesome those first few days,” Tavia said. “She kept me smiling and was constantly calling in to check on me.”

Tavia labored all day Monday. Later that night, she was induced, and baby Reign arrived within half an hour. “The nurses were well-prepared, and we had dedicated staff to care for this patient,” said Sharon Norris, MSN, RN, CNML, affiliate vice president and chief nursing officer at DMH. “Because she was our first COVID-positive mother-to-be, there was a high level of anticipation about how it would go and what to expect.”

Reign met her mom for a few moments before being transferred to her own negative-pressurized room, which was set up as a nursery across the hall from Tavia. An iPad was made available so that Tavia could see her baby and talk with the nurse caring for Reign.

The two were reunited the next day as Tavia was released from isolation. The new mom was required to wear a mask and gown before holding the baby because Reign’s COVID-19 status was still undetermined. Both a 24-hour and 48-hour COVID-19 test for the baby came back negative. The two roomed together at DMH for four days before heading home. Tavia was grateful for her night nurse, who checked in on Reign while Tavia tried to sleep.

“The labor and delivery team and the neonatal team are used to being prepared for ever-changing situations,” said Carol Hendrian, RN, director of Women and Children’s Services at DMH. “Tavia handled her delivery with such courage and flexibility, and she was able to keep smiling through all of it.”

In the Command Center

On March 13, Memorial Health System mobilized its Hospital Incident Command System (HICS). Incident Command protocols are intended to provide short-term leadership during a crisis, such as a severe weather event or an accident that brings a rush of injured patients to the hospital. Usually, Incident Command teams are only mobilized for a few hours or days. But the team handling the COVID-19 response quickly became the longest-running Incident Command in Memorial history.

The first incident commander within that structure was senior vice president and chief medical officer Raj Govindaiah, MD, but when it became clear that his expertise was needed for medical issues, president and CEO Ed Curtis took the helm. This group continues to meet regularly to stay informed and address any issues that may arise. Each MHS affiliate also has its own Incident Command team that meets to discuss specific details of their pandemic response.

Strengthening Partnerships

Memorial leaders continue to collaborate with other local healthcare and public health organizations to present a united front in the battle against the virus.

At first, these partnerships were focused on ensuring the public received accurate, up-to-date information about COVID-19. But quickly the collaboration expanded, enabling the organizations to set unified guidelines for visitor restrictions, testing and other important issues. MHS worked closely with SIU Medicine, Springfield Clinic, HSHS Illinois and county health departments.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened our existing partnerships and even helped us form new ones,” MHS president and CEO Ed Curtis said. “We are truly all in this together, and the ability to collaborate with our colleagues at other organizations has been a blessing.”

“All of us at HSHS Illinois have been so grateful for the collaboration within the central Illinois medical community during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said E.J. Kuiper, MHA, DPT, FACHE, HSHS Illinois president and CEO.

“It has been a huge benefit to the communities we serve to have our team working alongside Memorial Health System and other healthcare partners to provide consistent care in the safest way possible to our patients with and without COVID-19.”

Hearts for Healthcare Workers

The COVID-19 pandemic brought an increased appreciation for the work that healthcare professionals do to protect and heal their communities. Across the country, signs of support—often in the form of hearts—appeared in windows and chalked on sidewalks.

Inspired by these symbols of hope, in early April, Memorial Medical Center Foundation and HSHS St. John’s Foundation launched the Hearts for Healthcare Workers campaign in partnership with Ace Sign Co. and Primo Designs. Proceeds from the sale of Hearts for Healthcare yard signs and t-shirts were donated to support local hospitals and healthcare workers during the pandemic. As part of this effort, Hearts for Healthcare car clings and door signs were also provided free to local healthcare workers.

Proceeds from Hearts for Healthcare benefited the COVID-19 relief efforts of the five Memorial Health System hospital foundations.
  • More than 6,000 signs sold at 15 retail locations, plus 5 MHS gift shops
  • 1,479 T-shirts sold
  • More than $24,000 raised to benefit the 5 Memorial foundations and HSHS St. John's Foundation

Reimagining Respiratory Care

In the early days of the pandemic, healthcare organizations nationwide struggled with the question of how to test and treat patients with COVID-19 safely within their facilities.

That dilemma quickly became apparent for staff at Memorial ExpressCare. On Thursday, March 12, ExpressCare director Robin Murphy performed the first positive COVID-19 test at an ExpressCare clinic with Kimberly Paskiewicz, administrator of specialty services, standing by as safety officer. That drive-up test took place behind the South Sixth Street clinic in Springfield because there were not yet protocols in place for testing patients under investigation for COVID-19 at ExpressCare locations.

During the weekend following that first positive test, Murphy, Paskiewicz and Memorial Physician Services leaders discussed how to convert the South Sixth clinic into a Respiratory Clinic dedicated to the testing and treatment of patients with respiratory symptoms. Their plans became a reality in only a few days—on Monday, March 16, the Respiratory Clinic opened its doors for the first time.

“It was incredible to see how fast things began coming together over that weekend,” Paskiewicz said. “Our ExpressCare team just stepped up and did it, even at a time when people were really scared and there were a lot of unknowns.”

Each patient encounter at the clinic started with a phone consultation and screening. Patients with suspected COVID-19 symptoms or who had an upcoming surgical procedure at a Memorial Health System hospital could receive a curbside swab test. But the Respiratory Clinic was more than just a swabbing station—patients could also receive chest X-rays, EKGs and other, more extensive tests and treatment. Staff also followed up regularly for patients who tested positive for COVID-19, ensuring they received appropriate at-home care and tracking any worrisome symptoms.

Shortly after the South Sixth Respiratory Clinic opened, Decatur Medical Group opened a clinic at DMH ExpressCare East using the same model to serve Macon County residents. During a COVID-19 outbreak at a large employer in Cass County, the ExpressCare team also set up a temporary Respiratory Clinic in Beardstown. At the same time, Memorial Physician Services created some high-tech ways to reach patients, including a chat bot dubbed “AnneSarah” who could answer questions about COVID-19 symptoms and screening.

During the first six months of the clinic’s operation, staff logged more than 47,000 patient encounters, including more than 20,000 COVID-19 tests. “There have been days that have been really, really crazy and stressful, but I think we’ve weathered that really well,” Murphy said, noting how staff have remained optimistic and upbeat even when standing outside in full PPE to perform curbside testing in freezing cold or searing heat. “We asked people to adapt to a lot of changes in a short period of time, and they pitched right in.”

The Respiratory Clinic model utilizes many ways for patients to access care: by telephone, from their cars or in person. Paskiewicz credits ExpressCare colleagues with helping refine that model with innovative, out-of-the-box thinking. “This has helped us reimagine how care is delivered,” she said.

New Roles for a New Normal

When Memorial Health System suspended elective procedures and many other normal operations in March, colleagues in areas experiencing low volumes of work were redeployed to new roles responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • 661 colleagues redeployed
  • 19 new roles
  • 50 locations
  • Serving 66,905 hours

New roles included:

  • Entrance screeners
  • Safety monitors
  • PPE conservation

Connecting with Patients

The COVID-19 pandemic brought a huge expansion of telehealth services. Telehealth connects patients with their care providers via video or phone, allowing for a private, one-on-one consultation without the need for an office visit.

Between March and the end of the fiscal year in October 2020, Memorial Physician Services, Memorial Behavioral Health and other MHS ambulatory providers completed more than 35,000 telehealth visits across the 10-county MHS service area.

MHS also introduced ExpressCare Telehealth, which uses video technology to allow patients to see and talk with a local advanced practice registered nurse from one of the Memorial ExpressCare clinics.

“ExpressCare Telehealth, especially when you combine it with the Memorial app, gives patients flexibility in choosing the time and location they want to receive care,” said Gina White, an advanced practice registered nurse and manager of virtual care for Memorial Physician Services. “Our providers are able to visualize the patient for the exam while still delivering the same high quality of care as an in-person visit.”

More than 35,000 telehealth visits between March and October

  • Memorial Physician Services—16,365
  • Memorial Weight Loss & Wellness—4,722
  • Memorial Behavioral Health—14,816
  • Other Ambulatory Clinics—189

Ready, Safe, Go

As elective procedures resumed in May, Memorial launched the “Ready, Safe, Go” campaign to reassure the public it is safe to seek healthcare. Prompted by concerns that delaying necessary care could have dangerous consequences for patients, the campaign highlighted the many safety efforts underway at MHS hospitals and clinics.

Those efforts brought the work of the health system’s Environmental Services teams into the spotlight, showcasing how they keep facilities clean and sanitized with a combination of high-tech methods and old-fashioned elbow grease.

“Some people might think of Environmental Services as janitors,” said Gabe Ceperich, director, MMC Environmental Services.

“But we’re so much more than that. We’re on the front lines of protecting our patients, our colleagues and our community from illnesses like COVID-19 here in the healthcare setting.”

Support for an Anxious Time

The COVID-19 pandemic also had a significant impact on mental health, as individuals and families across the region adapted to new routines and faced new uncertainties. In response, on March 18, Memorial Behavioral Health launched a free emotional support hotline open to anyone in the community experiencing stress and anxiety.

During the first six months of its operation, the hotline helped nearly 1,400 callers with concerns about the virus, as well as grief, family discord, isolation, substance use and work stress. The behavioral health professionals who staff the hotline also respond to individuals who seek assistance via the state of Illinois’ Call4Calm texting program.

Support from the Community

As the pandemic response got underway, MHS hospitals received a massive outpouring of donations from the community in the form of meals, hot coffee and hundreds of homemade masks. The masks were laundered and distributed to colleagues across the organization. These generous expressions of gratitude helped lift spirits during a stressful time.

New Ways to Connect

Throughout the pandemic response, communication was crucial to ensure colleagues at all MHS affiliates had access to up-to-date, factual information. In mid-March, the Communications department launched a daily update publication to provide the latest information to the entire system each morning. Over time, this became a weekly newsletter that included both COVID-19 updates and important announcements for colleagues. Colleague CONNECT meetings, which were previously held in person four times a year, moved online. During these sessions, colleagues have the opportunity to ask questions live and get them answered by system leaders.

During fiscal year 2020:

  • 65 virtual COVID-19 meetings held for colleagues and leaders
  • 72 COVID-19 update newsletters emailed to colleagues and medical staff

Screening for Safety

In March and April, Emergency Department bays at MHS hospitals were transformed into triage centers where individuals with respiratory symptoms could be screened and receive treatment in negative-airflow spaces. Colleagues across the system worked to establish these triage areas quickly, and they helped ensure the safety of patients and colleagues alike.

Taylorville Memorial Hospital Opens Doors of New Facility

On the morning of March 11, seventeen patients took part in a milestone event for Taylorville Memorial Hospital as staff transported them from the old facility to an acute-care unit on the second floor of the new hospital.

“In less than one hour, we safely transported every inpatient to the new facility. On average, one patient was moved every three to four minutes,” TMH chief nursing officer Eli Heicher said. “This was an incredible logistical feat that required months of planning and marks a major milestone in our history.”

The move marked the completion of the first phase of the two-phase construction project to replace the original 1954 hospital. Before the building opened to patients, TMH hosted several community events to showcase the new facility, which features 25 private rooms and provides more convenient access to an array of outpatient services.

“We put so much thought and intention into the design to make it more convenient and provide easier access to services for patients and their families,” said TMH president and CEO Kim Bourne.

“Opening the doors of this new facility for the first time was an exciting moment for all of us.”

The second phase of the project is expected to be complete by summer 2021. It includes a new hospital kitchen, cafeteria, administrative offices and conference rooms. Springfield-based O’Shea Builders is the general contractor and the architect is BSA Life Structures of St. Louis.

In 2020, Taylorville Memorial Hospital was honored by the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network for its ongoing commitment to quality care. TMH ranked highly in all four of ICAHN’s quality outcomes areas and was also awarded a four-star Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) rating for a high-quality patient experience.

PAH Named Baby-Friendly Hospital

In January 2020, Passavant Area Hospital earned designation as a Baby-Friendly Hospital, recognizing optimal care for mothers who want to breastfeed their newborns. To earn this honor, Family Maternity Suites nurses implemented policies that encourage breastfeeding and provide support and education for nursing mothers.

These policies are based on a set of evidence-based practices recommended by the World Health Organization and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund for optimal infant feeding support in the first days of a newborn’s life.

“We provide education to our new mothers to help them make informed decisions about breastfeeding,” PAH Family Maternity Suites nurse manager Simone Parlier said. “We also offer comprehensive lactation education support both during the hospital stay and when the new mothers return home. Plus, mothers are encouraged to hold their babies skin to skin immediately following birth.”

Lincoln Land, MHS Partner to Address Nursing Shortage

In February, officials from Lincoln Land Community College and Memorial Health System announced the expansion of their long-standing partnership to help address the regional nursing shortage. With support from MHS, LLCC will admit 90 additional students per year to the college’s associate degree nursing program, for a total of 215 new nursing students annually. MHS will provide approximately $6.1 million to renovate the west wing of Montgomery Hall on the LLCC campus that will house expanded nursing classrooms and learning labs, purchase state-of-the-art equipment and hire additional nursing faculty and staff.

“LLCC has been supplying quality nurses to Memorial Health System since the early 1970s,” said Ed Curtis, MHS president and CEO.

“We are excited to now expand our partnership with LLCC to address the regional nursing shortage and meet the needs of the patients and communities we serve.”

MHS Launches Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Initiative

In August, Memorial Health System launched a new Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) initiative, aimed at creating a culture where everyone feels welcome, safe and included.

“In recent months, we have come to realize that we cannot achieve our mission without acknowledging and addressing the barriers to care created by systemic racism and other forms of discrimination,” president and CEO Ed Curtis said. “The EDI initiative is our effort to identify and confront those barriers while promoting a culture of respect, acceptance and understanding.”

Recognition and Awards

Memorial Medical Center was selected as a best regional hospital in the 2020 U.S. News and World Report hospital rankings, placing MMC among Illinois' top-performing hospitals and in the top 15 percent of hospitals nationwide.

In 2020, the Association for Talent Development honored Memorial Health System with the BEST Award, which recognizes organizations worldwide for their investment in employee education and development. It was the third time MHS had won the BEST Award, following recognition in 2010 and 2019. With this honor, MHS is in elite company, named alongside major international corporations like IBM, Verizon and Samsung. For the sixth year in a row, Memorial Health System also won a LearningElite gold award from Chief Learning Officer magazine. This international award recognizes organizations that have a strong and agile learning and development function. Memorial Health System ranked 15th out of 52 winners.

For a third time, Memorial Medical Center was designated as a Comprehensive Stroke Center, the nation's highest designation for stroke care. MMC was one of only 19 hospitals in Illinois to achieve that level of certification.

The Decatur Memorial Hospital Brain & Stroke Center, which is designated as a Primary Stroke Center, also earned the Gold Seal of Approval from The Joint Commission.

Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital was honored with a Performance Leadership Award by The Chartis Center for Rural Health and the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health with special recognition for overall excellence in the Outcomes and Patient Perspective categories.

Small Changes, Big Impact

Four years ago, Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital took a first step toward greater environmental sustainability by establishing a recycling program. Now, that first step has helped transform ALMH into one of the “greenest” hospitals in the nation. In 2020, ALMH was named to the Practice Greenhealth Top 25 Environmental Excellence list—the most prestigious honor given to healthcare organizations for sustainability. Practice Greenhealth provides tools and resources to promote environmental stewardship within the healthcare industry nationwide.

Sustainability efforts at ALMH began in 2016, when a group of colleagues began asking leaders about the possibility of recycling medical plastics. “We started by looking at a single-stream recycling program,” said Lynne Metz, director of Hospitality at ALMH and a leader in the hospital’s sustainability efforts.

After tackling this first challenge, the group began looking at other easy ways to be more sustainable, including reducing energy costs and food waste. “It just blossomed and evolved from there,” ALMH president and CEO Dolan Dalpoas said. “It was a true grassroots effort.”

In 2018, Dalpoas—who was pursuing his Lean Six Sigma Green Belt—launched a project after realizing ALMH was well below national benchmarks for recycling surgical waste. By making simple changes, like switching from disposable to reusable sterilization containers for surgical instruments and recycling medical plastics, ALMH was able to dramatically reduce the amount of material for disposal after surgical procedures. Between 10 to 14 pounds of waste that would’ve ended up in the garbage is now diverted to recycling each day.

At the same time, transitioning to monitored anesthesia care methods helped the OR team reduce their use of anesthetic gases by 84 percent. These gases, many of which have harmful effects on the environment, can make up more than 5 percent of a hospitals’ carbon footprint. Metz said that everyone involved in these changes—from Environmental Services staff to physicians—was excited to achieve their goals. “The further we got into the process, the more engaged the OR team became,” she said.

These efforts aren’t just good stewardship of the environment, Dalpoas said. They’re also helping the hospital reduce costs. Between 2019 and 2020 alone, the hospital reduced their energy expenses by 18 percent through easy changes like switching to LED light bulbs. Since 2016, they’ve also reduced water use by 21 percent.

“There’s so much energy and passion around this,” Dalpoas said, noting that the sustainability efforts have become a source of pride for colleagues. ALMH is one of the smallest hospitals on Practice Greenhealth’s Top 25 list, alongside much larger institutions like Cleveland Clinic and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

“It goes to show that small hospitals like ours can make these small changes that have a big impact,” Metz said.

A Legacy of Service

To protect the health and well-being of our volunteers, most volunteer services were suspended in FY20 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All of us at Memorial are grateful for our volunteers, Auxiliary members, legacy volunteers and all those who give their time to support our mission. We hope to see you again soon.

  • 1,184 volunteers serving in roles across the health system
  • 637 legacy volunteers including lifetime members of affiliate Auxiliaries and other volunteers who have retired from active service
  • 1,000+ volunteers at past Festival of Trees events

Life-Changing Care at a Crucial Moment

In late March, at a time when COVID-19 was causing many surgical procedures nationwide to be postponed, Denise Hickox received a life-changing kidney transplant at Memorial Medical Center.

The 56-year-old Jacksonville resident was diagnosed with a rare, degenerative kidney disease four years ago. “I went through dialysis four days a week, 3½ hours a day,” she said. “I just really didn’t care if tomorrow came or not. Now, I have energy. I actually feel good about being up, and I’m not tied down to a dialysis chair.”

Transplants of deceased-donor organs in the United States dropped by half from late February to early April due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report in the scientific journal The Lancet. But MMC, which operates the Alan G. Birtch, MD, Center for Transplant Services in partnership with Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and Springfield Clinic, continued deceased-donor transplants with careful evaluations of each case during the COVID-19 pandemic. Transplants from living donors were temporarily postponed but have since resumed.

Marc Garfinkel, MD, an SIU associate professor and surgical director of Memorial’s transplant program, credited local healthcare providers, policymakers and residents for taking steps to avoid a surge of COVID-19-related illnesses in the community.

“We feel very fortunate to have been able to continue to provide this service while recognizing the regional and national challenges that the pandemic created,” Dr. Garfinkel said. “These were important opportunities for people to get off dialysis.”

Community Health Needs Assessment Implementation Strategies

Fiscal year 2020 was the second year of work on three-year strategies developed by the five Memorial Health System hospitals to address community health priorities.

In 2018, each hospital completed a Community Health Needs Assessment in collaboration with county health departments in Sangamon, Logan, Morgan and Christian counties, as well as other health and social service providers who represented vulnerable members of the community. (Decatur Memorial Hospital, which was not affiliated with Memorial Health System at that time, completed its Community Health Needs Assessment separately.)

Detailed information on each hospital’s Community Health Needs Assessment and outcomes of the implementation strategies are available at ChooseMemorial.org/HealthyCommunities.

Connections for Healing

The Access to Health Collaborative, a partnership between SIU Medicine, Memorial Medical Center and HSHS St. John’s Hospital, began in 2015 as a way to increase access to healthcare in the Enos Park neighborhood of Springfield. The success of that effort led the program to expand to address the needs of other marginalized populations—including, most recently, local immigrant communities.

“This effort got underway before the pandemic struck,” said Becky Gabany, system director of Community Engagement at Memorial Health System. “When COVID-19 hit, we were better prepared to help a population that has been disproportionately affected across the country.”

Those efforts are led by SIU Medicine community health worker Julio Barrenzuela. A native of Springfield, Barrenzuela has deep ties within the local Latino community. In his role with the Access to Health Collaborative, he works closely with three organizations that serve that community: Culturally Integrated Education for Latinos Organization (CIELO), which provides scholarships and other educational support for Latino/Hispanic students; Springfield Immigrant Advocacy Network (SIAN), which supports and advocates for immigrants in the area; and Hispanic Women of Springfield, which works to bring awareness of the culture and heritage of Central and South America to the Springfield community.

The Latino community in Springfield includes families like Barrenzuela’s, who have called central Illinois home for many years, as well as more recent arrivals from Puerto Rico, Mexico and several Central American countries. The community includes individuals with many different immigration statuses, ranging from naturalized citizens to individuals who may be in the process of completing their immigration paperwork or those who are undocumented. This latter group often goes without healthcare because of concerns about jeopardizing their immigration status and/or their future prospects of petitioning for residency or citizenship. If immigrants use healthcare services funded by federal or state aid, they may risk being denied the opportunity to become legal residents.

As a result, many conditions go untreated, Barrenzuela said. “When I first start talking to them, they say, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine,’” he said, noting that Latino immigrants are often hesitant to share their health concerns with others. This aspect of their culture can mask more serious health issues. The most pressing needs he sees are dental care, diabetes care, mental healthcare and vision care.

Barrenzuela works with SIAN to connect his clients with healthcare resources that will not affect their immigration status. In some cases, payment is also an issue; among immigrants employed in low-wage jobs, being uninsured or under-insured is common. With these factors in mind, he helps clients consider their options for care and choose the right approach.

During the pandemic, Barrenzuela has worked with local organizations on food distribution to food-insecure families while helping coordinate testing and translation services. Sometimes, he said, progress can seem slow. But every step counts. “I want my Latino community to be better off—better than we were yesterday—whatever that looks like,” he said.

Screening Kit Giveaway Saves Lives

Seventy-three-year-old John Werries put off getting a baseline colonoscopy for years. “I was just stubborn, I guess,” said John, a Morgan County corn and soybean producer who harvested his fifty-sixth crop this fall.

It was at the insistence of his wife, Ruthie, that John finally relented last year and completed a colorectal cancer screening kit obtained from a Passavant Area Hospital giveaway event. Passavant offers these screening kit giveaways annually as part of their effort to increase access to care for local residents. More than 300 kits were distributed during the 2020 giveaway.

John’s test came back positive for blood in the stool. Ruthie immediately scheduled a colonoscopy, which led to the removal of a polyp and a cancer diagnosis. Only five days later—coincidentally, on his birthday—John underwent surgery to remove a section of his large intestine. “Most people said, ‘Oh, what an awful birthday present,’ but on the other hand, it was a great birthday present because on my birthday I was cancer-free,” he said.

Now, John is sharing his story in the hope it will convince more people to schedule recommended colonoscopies or at least pick up a colorectal cancer screening kit. “For a variety of reasons, some people are reluctant to undergo a traditional colonoscopy,” said Lori Hartz, director of Community Benefit and Relations at Passavant. “Although the screening kits don’t replace a colonoscopy entirely, they can be a crucial tool in detecting the symptoms of cancer early. We’re pleased our efforts to distribute these kits in the community have been so successful over the years.”

John’s cancer was caught early, and that made a significant difference in how quickly he was able to complete treatment and return to his active life. “Dr. [Daniel] Hallam told me it would be about six to eight weeks—no lifting and all that—and I told him I’d have to be on the combine when we started harvesting corn,” John said.

“And I was. That was good incentive for my recovery.”

Mental Health First Aid

Mental health was identified as a leading concern in the 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment. In response, Memorial Health System began offering Mental Health First Aid training to the public. Mental Health First Aid is a nationwide program that teaches people to recognize the signs of mental health issues and connect those affected with the help they need. The program also aims to reduce the stigma and raise awareness of mental health concerns.

In response to mental health needs in Christian County, Taylorville Memorial Hospital hosted several Mental Health First Aid training sessions in 2020 before in-person training was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • 19% of adults and 17% of children and teens in the U.S. report struggling with their mental health.
  • In 2020, Taylorville Memorial Hospital hosted 3 Mental Health First Aid training sessions—2 youth and 1 adult.
  • 20 people were trained to recognize the signs of a mental health crisis in children and teens and 6 people were trained to help adults.

Resources for Safe Gatherings

In April and May, as COVID-19 restrictions began to lift statewide, many restaurants, businesses and churches reopened for the first time since the pandemic began. Community benefit colleagues from Memorial Health System distributed signs and educational materials these organizations could use to encourage mask-wearing, handwashing, social distancing and other infection prevention practices.

In partnership with the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at SIU Medicine, MHS also distributed more than 2,500 signs to organizations that primarily serve people of color.

“When our local businesses and houses of worship began to reopen, it was important that they could do so safely,” said Becky Gabany, MHS system director of Community Engagement. “Providing the resources to help them with that felt like a natural extension of our mission.”

One of the churches using these materials is Jasper Street Church of Christ in Decatur, which reopened its doors for in-person services on July 19. Deacon Ervin Smith said that some members of the congregation were nervous about returning. But the precautions they instituted—including offering multiple services to allow for more social distancing—have helped provide reassurance, he said.

“I think it helped to ease their minds once they came and saw we have preventive measures in place,” he said.

Decatur-Area Health Data Now Available Online

Based on priorities identified in the 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment, Decatur Memorial Hospital is working to increase access to primary care, prevent and address substance use and improve access to mental health services in Macon County and the surrounding area.

“The needs assessment showed us that access to high-quality care is a concern for people in our area,” said Julie Bilbrey, executive director, Decatur Memorial Foundation.

“We’re working with partners within our communities to make crucial services available to everyone."

“Community health data for the counties served by DMH has also been added to the Healthy Communities Institute database accessible at ChooseMemorial.org/Community-Health-Needs-Assessment. The public is encouraged to browse this data, which includes crucial information about health needs and disparities across central Illinois.

Healthy Food for Learning

School lunches don’t typically include locally sourced, from-scratch foods. But students at Lincoln Elementary School District 27 (LESD 27) enjoy delicious meals they helped choose thanks to inspiration from the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital Community Health Collaborative and funding from generous donors to the ALMH Foundation.

“As we address obesity in our county, our goal is for children to enjoy and crave nutrient-dense foods,” said Angela Stoltzenburg, director of the Community Health Collaborative (CHC).

“If they develop that palate when they’re young, it will help them create healthy habits that last a lifetime.”

Obesity was identified as an area of concern in Logan County’s 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment. The CHC already had a successful partnership with LESD 27 through the CATCH program, which emphasizes a school environment that makes the healthy choice the easy choice. “Improving school breakfasts and lunches was a natural next step,” Stoltzenburg said. “It was important to move away from the frozen and processed foods that are commonly served in school cafeterias so students could experience a variety of healthy foods.”

After meeting with the LESD 27 food service director and administration, it was decided that Beyond Green Sustainable Partners would be the right fit to bring the knowledge and support required to move the cafeteria towards from-scratch cooking. Beyond Green has successfully helped many schools and other large institutions provide healthier, more sustainable food options, and their work in Lincoln was funded by a grant from the ALMH Foundation. In summer 2019, they began working with LESD 27 cafeteria staff.

Their goals were to increase the number of from-scratch recipes and ingredients purchased locally. At the same time, they wanted to make sure kids actually ate and enjoyed the new menu offerings. Between September 2019 and March 2020, the number of from-scratch menu items offered at breakfast and lunch more than doubled. But the new meals weren’t unfamiliar or “scary”—instead, they were fresher, more nutritious takes on foods the kids already enjoyed. Students participated in taste tests to provide feedback on favorites like tacos and chicken strips with dipping sauces.

The CHC and district leaders were determined to make these changes without increasing food costs by finding dollars in the existing budget. The efforts were successful, largely because of increased monitoring of how much food was prepared and how much food students were throwing away uneaten. In addition, buying unprocessed produce like whole melons and raw meat proved less expensive than buying the same foods processed. Working with local food producers also provides a boost to the county’s economy.

The school year came to an unforeseen end in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But work resumed as the 2020–21 school year got underway, with students continuing to enjoy fresh meals with ingredients provided by local vendors. “Teaching kids to make healthy choices is more important now than ever,” Stoltzenburg said. “We’re proud of the hard work that LESD 27 continues to do to offer food that is fresh, local and rich in nutrients to students.”

About Memorial Health System

One of the leading healthcare organizations in Illinois, Memorial Health System in Springfield is a community-based, not-for-profit organization that provides a full range of inpatient, outpatient, home health, hospice, behavioral health and primary care physician services. With eight affiliates based in Sangamon and the neighboring counties, we deliver high-quality, patient-centered care in support of our mission to improve the health of the people and communities we serve.

Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital

ALMH is a critical access hospital in Lincoln serving the people and communities of Logan and eastern Mason counties. ALMH also offers a spectrum of outpatient rehabilitation, therapy and diagnostic testing.


Decatur Memorial Hospital

DMH provides inpatient and outpatient care to residents of Macon County and the neighboring counties, offering a wide range of general and specialized diagnostic, surgical and treatment services.


Memorial Behavioral Health

Memorial Behavioral Health offers a continuum of behavioral healthcare and rehabilitation services for children and adults in Sangamon, Menard, Logan, Mason, Scott, Christian and Morgan counties.


Memorial Home Services

Memorial Home Services provides home health, hospice and medical equipment services across an 18-county region in central Illinois.


Memorial Medical Center

MMC is an acute care Magnet® hospital (for nursing excellence) in Springfield that offers comprehensive inpatient and outpatient services to residents of 40 central and southern Illinois counties. Since 1970, MMC has been a teaching hospital affiliated with Southern Illinois University School of Medicine for the purpose of providing clinical training for residents.


Memorial Physician Services

Memorial Physician Services is a primary care network that serves patients in nearly 400,000 visits each year in central Illinois locations in Chatham, Jacksonville, Lincoln, Petersburg and Springfield.


Passavant Area Hospital

PAH is a Magnet® hospital (for nursing excellence) in Jacksonville serving the residents of Morgan, Cass, Greene, Scott, Macoupin and portions of Brown and northern Pike counties since 1875. PAH provides inpatient and outpatient services.


Taylorville Memorial Hospital

TMH is a critical access hospital in Taylorville offering a full range of inpatient and outpatient services to residents of Christian County.