Michael Reese Health Trust

by Carole Klein-Alexander

For over a century, Michael Reese Hospital on Chicago’s south side was recognized as a major research and teaching hospital. Its namesake, Michael Reese, was a Bavarian-born, unmarried entrepreneur raised in the U.S, who lost and won several fortunes in various speculative business ventures. After his death in 1877 at age 70, his beneficiaries in Chicago, already committed to aiding the poor through the Hebrew Relief Association, decided to use their inheritance to build a new hospital which would be open to all people, regardless of nationality or race. Dedicated in 1881, Michael Reese Hospital served a diverse array of mostly European immigrants for decades and provided a substantial amount of charity care. Recognized for being innovative, the hospital also drew patients from across the city. A century later, the demographics of the neighborhood changed, and the hospital fell on to hard times.

In 1991, the Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center, and the Michael Reese Health Plan were sold to the for- profit firm, Humana. The non-profit assets of the sale, about $60 million dollars, funded the Michael Reese Health Trust (MRHT), an independent grant making foundation focused on improving the health of Chicago’s most vulnerable populations. The Health Trust is charged with continuing the mission of the original hospital, but maintained no relationship with the hospital once it became a for-profit institution. Grant making began at the Health Trust in the fall of 1997.

The Health Trust has carried on the Michael Reese tradition by working assiduously to improve the health and health care access of Chicagoland’s poor, children and youth, people with disabilities, the elderly, immigrants and refugees, the uninsured, and others not adequately served by the existing health care delivery systems.

To emphasize the Health Trust’s Jewish heritage, special consideration is given to programs that serve those in the Jewish community that fall within these populations. This has been the foundation for MRHT’s special relationship with CJE and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

According to Elizabeth Lee, MRHT Senior Program Officer for Proactive Grants, the Health Trust makes two types of grants:
• Responsively, where Chicagoland agencies request funding for general operating and/or projects that fit its guidelines;
• Proactively, where MRHT staff works with multiple agencies to address issues related to improving health care access and quality for vulnerable populations.

Ms. Lee has a 20-plus year history with CJE, having first learned of CJE as a consultant with the Chicago Community Trust and the Retirement Research Foundation. According to Ms. Lee, “At that time, as is true now, CJE was viewed as an innovative leader and an important service provider to all seniors, including those in the Jewish Community.”

CJE is proud of its strong and enduring relationship with MRHT, which first provided Responsive grant support to CJE for its Alzheimer’s Initiative from 1998 through 2001. In 2001, the Fund for Innovation in Health was established at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago in honor of its Centennial. Instead of the MRHT Responsive Grant Program, Jewish Federation affiliates apply to the Federation to access the Fund for Innovation in Health, their exclusive MRHT restricted fund.

In 1999, CJE received one of the Health Trust’s first Proactive grants in support of CJE’s Partners in Care Program. For the next six years, the Partners in Care intervention placed CJE social workers into a variety of physician practice settings to identify at-risk elderly, particularly those with cognitive impairment and/or depression, hoping to build a more closely linked system of care through social work interventions. MRHT funding supported the planning, implementation, evaluation, data analysis and dissemination of the project’s outcomes.

In 2011, MRHT provided support to CJE through a one-year planning grant, followed by a 2-year demonstration grant in 2012, to develop the Transitional Care Collaborative with three local hospitals—Northwestern Memorial, Presence Saint Joseph and Presence Saint Francis. CJE transitional care nurses (TCNs) follow Medicare patients from the hospital to their home, long-term care or rehabilitation facility with desired goal of reducing avoidable hospital readmissions. After enrolling patients in the hospital, and upon discharge, TCNs visit patients and coach them by phone to facilitate self- care, medication management and follow- through on medical appointments for the next 30 days.

Depending on the final results, CJE is hopeful that Medicare funding will eventually support the cost of the service thereby eliminating the need for private funding. During the entire process, MRHT has been CJE’s partner every step of the way, lending guidance and sharing their program officers’ substantial knowledge of the delicate balance between community-based services and the evolving health care environment.

This year, MRHT is partnering with CJE and the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians to conduct an 18-month pilot that will test a software application for Medicare Annual Wellness Visits. Assessments categorize each patient into one of five medical health-risk tiers. The patients with the highest health risks will be referred to a CJE Care Manager to address non-medical supportive risk factors.

In late 2008, after transferring hands again, the iconic hospital closed its doors forever. Today, there is still speculation on how the City of Chicago should  redevelop the 48 acres near the South Side site where Michael Reese Hospital once commanded center stage.

Whatever the final decision, the impactful 133-year legacy of the hospital and its founders is revered and executed with thoughtful intent by the Michael Reese Health Trust—from generation to generation. We are extremely thankful for its dedicated, proactive approach to health and aging issues in Chicago and Illinois, which energizes innovative thinkers, policymakers, advocates and practitioners to create long-term solutions to the region’s persistent and emerging health care challenges.

Historical information gleaned from the website (healthtrust.net) and book: All Our Lives: A Centennial History of Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center, 1881-1981, edited by SarahGordon. © Copyright 1981.


This article originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of LIFE, CJE SeniorLife's quarterly magazine.