Our History

The story of Erie Family Health Centers began in 1957 with a compassionate physician and a patient in need of health care. The physician was Dr. Robert Snyder, an internist at Northwestern University Medical School, and his patient was Carmela Jacob.

Carmela Jacob, a longtime resident of Chicago’s West Town community, was frustrated by the problems that she and other West Town residents encountered when they tried to obtain health care services. Recognizing an unmet need in the community, Dr. Snyder began providing onsite medical care for older adults at Erie Neighborhood House, a community center for immigrants in West Town — and Erie Family Health Centers was born.

With the assistance of Northwestern University medical students and community volunteers, the clinic began providing geriatric health care services two evenings a week. Over the next 10 years, Northwestern medical students expressed a growing interest in staffing a student-run clinic to provide community based medical services for families with low-incomes. This dream was realized in 1968, when Erie expanded its services to serve children and adults experiencing poverty.

By 1970, Erie had evolved into a full-service community health center and was officially incorporated as a separate entity from Erie Neighborhood House. The 1980s brought more growth and change: The Erie Senior Health Center was established onsite at a high-rise apartment complex for older adults. The Erie Teen Health Center was converted from a makeshift clinic in an apartment into a full-fledged clinic in 1985.

In 1986, our original health center moved from Erie Street to Chicago Avenue. Erie established a full service Humboldt Park health center in 1986. In 1988, Chicago’s mayor declared October 6 Erie Family Health Center Day in recognition of Erie’s contributions to the health and well-being of Chicago’s medically underserved communities.

As the years passed, the number of patients in need of comprehensive, culturally sensitive health care services continued to increase. By 1987, our West Town location was serving more than 2,000 patients a month.

Today, Erie is a regional health care resource serving more than 87,000 patients a year at 13 health centers spanning the west side of Chicago to Waukegan. These sites include four large primary care centers that offer integrated medical and dental health services, three additional large primary care centers, the region’s oldest and largest comprehensive teen and young adult health center, and five school-based health centers.

Although 66 years have passed since Dr. Snyder first began providing medical care for West Town’s older adults, our mission remains the same: to deliver high quality health care services to the Chicago region’s medically underserved residents with compassion, cultural understanding and respect—regardless of their ability to pay.

What is Erie?

Our patients and doctors answer that question in this video.

60 Years!

60 years. 700,000 patients. One mission. Our Board Member Richard Romanowski composed this song about Erie’s impact in the community.

A Meeting of the Minds

Chicago’s West Side in the 1950s was an industrial hub and destination for thousands of immigrants from Europe and Latin America as well as migrants from the rural South.

To overcome the enormous socioeconomic and cultural challenges they faced, many turned to Erie Neighborhood House, an established social services organization.

An Erie house volunteer, Carmela Genova Jacob, was deeply concerned about the prevalence of illness and the community’s lack of access to medical care. She worried about the spread of tuberculosis and the looming polio epidemic. She confided her worries to her own doctor.

The doctor, Robert A. Snyder, was a faculty member at Northwestern University Medical School. He too was troubled by the critical lack of affordable health services in the impoverished West Side community. Then he and Mrs. Jacob had an inspiration: together they could marshal the resources of the medical school and community. The idea for a free clinic was born.

The partnership resulted in a successful drive for medical supplies and volunteers who provided free polio vaccinations for hundreds of residents, saving lives and establishing the clinic as an essential community resource.

1950's: Turning a Vision into Reality

A one-room clinic opened at Erie Neighborhood House on Chicago's West Side. A volunteer staff provided basic medical care for community residents two afternoons each week. Clinic co-founders Carmela Genova Jacob and Dr. Robert A. Snyder collaborated to acquire polio vaccines for hundreds of children who otherwise would not have received it.

In 1957, the Carmela Genova Jacob Clinic opened as a free clinic in partnership with Northwestern University Medical School. The school’s faculty members supervised senior medical students to provide care for community residents.

1960's: Expanding Access to Preventive Care

Erie and the medical school increased the clinic’s hours to include one evening a week as demand for services grew. The clinic expanded volunteer, staff and space to accommodate growth.

Medical school student and faculty participation increased to care for patients with acute illness. The clinic initiated new services including counseling for teens, prenatal and preventive care.

The clinic partnered with area hospitals and other agencies to connect patients and their families with a more comprehensive array of needed health and social services.

1970's: Responding to a Need for Growth

Community members, physicians and public health officials established an advisory board and in 1970 incorporated the Erie clinic as a separate nonprofit organization called West Town Health Center. Four years later it was renamed Erie Family Health Center.

In the 1970s Erie expanded to provide pediatric, obstetrical, family planning and nutritional services. The clinic sought and received grants to support the hiring of physicians and other clinical staff. By the end of the decade, Erie had built a small team to include medical and behavioral health providers and nurses.

1980's: Focusing on Communities Most in Need

Erie earned designation as a federally qualified health center by achieving the U.S. Public Health Service’s standards for patient care and community responsiveness. Its mandate was to care for underserved, primarily Spanish-speaking immigrants living in West Town, Humboldt Park and Logan Square.

Erie opened its Humboldt Park location as well as Erie Teen Center, the first freestanding clinic for teens in Illinois.

Lending Hands for Life was established as the first program on the West Side to provide testing and support for low-income, predominantly Hispanic patients with HIV/AIDS.

1990's: Advancing Health for Childrens of All Ages

Erie launched a school-based health initiative to provide accessible care for children. Westside Family Health Center, Erie’s first school-based health center, opened at Ryerson School. By 2011, Erie would grow to five sites, making it one of the largest school-based health providers in Chicago.

Responding to a statewide increase in teen births and infant mortality, Erie implemented a newborn health initiative. In 1994, the Chicago Department of Public Health recognized Erie for the success of this effort.

2000's: Innovating to Improve Patient Health

Two state-of-the art Erie dental clinics at Erie Humboldt Park and adjacent to the new Helping Hands site opened to provide children, pregnant women and diabetic patients with high quality dental care.

Erie became one of the nation’s first health centers to adopt electronic health records through a partnership it cofounded, the Alliance for Chicago Community Health Centers.

Erie’s health promotion department grew to offer community support systems and educational programs on topics such as nutrition, disease prevention, healthy pregnancies, raising healthy children.

2010's: Pioneering Care in At-Risk Communities

Erie expanded with new sites in high-need communities. In Chicago, Erie Division Street and Erie Foster Avenue opened their doors. Erie Evanston/Skokie and Erie HealthReach Waukegan brought Erie care to the north suburbs.

2010's: Pioneering Care in At-Risk Communities 

Erie expanded with new sites in high-need communities. In Chicago, Erie Division Street and Erie Foster Avenue opened their doors. Erie Evanston/Skokie and Erie HealthReach Waukegan brought Erie care to the north suburbs and Lake County. 

Erie Humboldt Park was an original participant in the Teaching Health Center Program and Erie Family Health Centers currently provides training for more than 300 doctors and other clinical professionals.

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