Founding Board Members Lon Berkeley and Mike Gelder Share What Health & Medicine’s Working Board is All About - Health & Medicine Policy Research Group

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Founding Board Members Lon Berkeley and Mike Gelder Share What Health & Medicine’s Working Board is All About

December 16, 2021

When Lon Berkeley and Michael Gelder were invited by founders Quentin Young and John McKnight to serve on Health & Medicine’s inaugural Board of Directors in 1981, they were simply excited to work alongside other progressive health activists to address a broad range of unmet public health issues through in-depth policy research, follow-up advocacy, and education.

“At that time, there was no organization within the state that could act independently, challenge the status quo, and influence both key political stakeholders and community leaders,” Lon says. “Although we were aware of similar groups in other parts of the country, we never expected that the organization would last 40 years or that we would still play an active part in it years later.”

Over the decades, Mike and Lon have remained committed to the original Health & Medicine vision of a board-driven organization that collaborates with full-time and consulting staff to generate and implement activities and projects. While both have served as past Presidents, they are both grateful for the role the organization played early in their careers as young progressives concerned about health policy, enabling them to hone their policy thinking and political analyses as well as develop leadership skills around topics that they couldn’t do as part of their paying jobs.

“Health & Medicine offers us the chance to learn from and network with other smart, passionate, and inspiring health care activists,” says Lon. “We relish the organization’s regular discussions and debates around controversial, topical public health issues.” 40 years into their commitment to Health & Medicine, Mike and Lon continue to fight for health equity.

In 2014, after a 25-year legislative ordeal, Lon helped to ensure the successful opening of the first freestanding birth center in Illinois. More recently, he helped to advocate the passage of the Birth Center Licensing Act, which lifts the current cap on the number of freestanding birth center licenses and allows more women—especially those in marginalized communities—to have access to the birthing style they prefer.

Over the years, Lon has also been involved in Health & Medicine’s efforts to rebuild, expand, and integrate the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, including proposals to consider a regional health authority; advocating for innovative worker health and safety programs; leading the Quentin D. Young Equity Project; keeping an eye on the organization’s financial condition (including being Treasurer three times); heading up several strategic planning efforts; and establishing and leading Health & Medicine’s annual awards program. In addition, Lon’s family supports the Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellows Program through the Leslie Nickels Named Fellowship, which honors his late wife’s service, mentorship, and scholarship, particularly in worker health and safety matters.

In the 1980s, based on the Health & Medicine tenet that “wealth creates health,” Mike led a committee that advanced community economic development and explored ways to help communities expand work opportunities for their residents and retain the money they earned within their communities. This effort teamed with the Association of Colleges of the Midwest, the South Shore Community Unemployment Union, and a number of community organizers, including Mary Nelson at Bethel New Life, to help turn their blighted neighborhoods into sustainable economies.

Additionally, based on a growing model of worker-owned home care co-ops in New York, Mike headed a committee that identified the quickly growing field of home care for frail older adults as an opportunity to train local residents for employment while providing an alternative to nursing homes. Health & Medicine’s research and advocacy then led to more frail older adults receiving in-home care and remaining in their communities for longer, keeping them connected to their families and creating jobs for other community residents to provide that care.

As large, multi-national companies took over in states across the country, Health & Medicine played a vigorous role in advocating for state policy changes to ensure that local community organizations could contract with the state to provide care at home. Over time, Health & Medicine sponsored seminars and forums that explored potential solutions, developed coalitions, and supported legislation to ensure community-based home care services, which passed by the early 1990s. Health & Medicine continues to fight alongside various coalition partners for increased spending on Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) and seeks to make nursing homes the rare exception.

Most recently, responding early in the COVID-19 pandemic that devastated older adults, especially in Black and Latino communities, Mike led a team of faculty at the UIC School of Public Health to examine risk factors that led to excessively high COVID-19 case and deaths in Cook County nursing homes. Health & Medicine supported this study through its paid intern program and released its findings to aid policy makers, older adults, and their families to make more informed residential placement decisions. As Mike put it, “We learn, we’re quick, we’re nimble, and we listen to the community. We provide policy analysis and research and bring organizations together in a way that helps us accomplish a much broader purpose.”

Mike currently serves as Adjunct Research Assistant Professor at UIC and adjunct faculty at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and consults with organizations to improve access, quality, and affordability of health care.

Following a lengthy career that included public health education, community health planning, and supporting community health centers, Lon recently retired as Director of the Joint Commission’s Community Health Center accreditation initiative. Both residents of Evanston, Mike and Lon remain committed to health justice in Chicago and the state of Illinois.

Lon and Mike both believe in the ongoing and vital role Health & Medicine must play around needed changes in delivering health services, recognizing health care as a right and public good, and supporting community-based efforts that emphasize the intersection of health with other related public sector responsibilities. They hope to pass along the inspiration and vision they received from Quentin and many other leaders  to upcoming generations of activists.

We are so thankful for their hard work over the last 40 years!