Serving the Underserved

Dr. Janet SeabrookAs a child, Janet Seabrook was determined to wear a stethoscope someday, like the family physician who treated her early in her life. Helping others was always her life’s goal. But neither she, nor anyone else, could have imagined the impact her life would come to have on so many others.

Today, Dr. Janet Seabrook, MD, MBA, is executive director of Community HealthNet, Inc., a not-for-profit, community-based primary health care organization serving the needs of people of all income levels.

As Dr. Seabrook puts it, Community HealthNet was established “to serve medically underserved areas of Northwest Indiana.”

Funded by federal and state dollars, Community HealthNet also receives support from donations, and patient revenue generated on a sliding-scale system based on ability to pay.

“Our mission is to provide access and primary health services to uninsured and underinsured families and individuals,” she says. “We’re a Federally Qualified Health Center, an FQHC, that operates under the US Department of Health and Human Services through funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration.”

Need for Hometown Health Care

Community HealthNet, Inc.

In 1998, the Gary Community Health Center was incorporated under the executive direction of Dr. Janet Seabrook. The center gained status as a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in 2006, expanded to five Lake County sites — Gary, Miller, Hammond, Calumet Township, and Merrillville — and changed its name to Community HealthNet, Inc.

As a not-for-profit, community-based primary care health care organization, Community HealthNet is committed to providing accessible, affordable, and quality medical services to families and individuals of all income levels.

Some 10,000 patients benefit from Community HealthNet as a family medical center offering services including health care for children, adolescents, women, men, and geriatric patients; laboratory, EKG, pregnancy, and HIV testing; school and sports exams; family planning; substance abuse referrals; vision and hearing screening; and behavioral health and dental care.

Corporate headquarters:
1021 W. 5th Ave., Gary, IN.

Community HealthNet Building

Early one morning, at the 5th Avenue office in her adopted hometown of Gary, IN, Dr. Seabrook explains how her dream of becoming a family physician grew into a calling that now touches some 10,000 patients.

In 1996, she was a national health scholar working as a family physician at an FQHC on the south side of Chicago, when she read a US Preventive Task Services report referring to Gary as America’s neediest city without a community health center.

“I was driving every day from my hometown to a Chicago FQHC, where some of the patients came from Gary because there was no such facility here,” she says. “I didn’t feel good about traveling through a location that had greater need, so I decided to see if there was anything I could do to make accessible, affordable health care available to Gary residents and the surrounding community.”

Personal Crusade

She made “well-rounded, comprehensive health care — from birth to death — for Gary residents” her personal crusade.

The challenges of establishing a federallysupported community health center in her home community were daunting. Others before her had tried and failed. And she was a young physician seeking to start and manage a health care business with little experience.

“The focus had to be on patients and community; affordable, accessible health care,” she says. “Everything else — money, politics — had to be taken out of the equation.”

Her efforts were rewarded in 1998 when the former Gary Community Health Center was incorporated under her leadership as executive director. After gaining FQHC status in 2006, the center expanded to four other Lake County locations, all under Dr. Seabrook’s direction, and changed its name to Community HealthNet.

Patients make 30,000 annual Community HealthNet visits; the care they receive addresses pre-natal to geriatric needs. Northwest Indiana’s Community HealthNet was the first such center nationally to offer dental care through a public/private partnership. It also is the lead agency for the Lake County, Indiana, Minority Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Coalition and the Lake County Covering Kids & Families program.

“I could not have lived with myself if I had let this opportunity pass,” Dr. Seabrook says.

And because she didn’t, her busy life as an urgent care physician at Gary’s Methodist Hospital Northlake Campus; wife to husband Augustine Izah, a family medicine physician; and mother of two became more complicated with the demands of running a new health care business.

To do it successfully, she knew she needed training, and that prompted her to enroll in Purdue University Calumet’s MBA for Executives program in 2004.

Purdue University Calumet MBAE Program

“Not-for-profit doesn’t mean ‘no profit’,” the doctor says. Reflecting on the 18-month Purdue University Calumet cohort program of classes she completed in 2005, she remembers that “the networking and forming of relationships was amazing . . . The program helped me better analyze, process, and prioritize my work at the health center. It helped my growth as an executive.” She recalls the “good handle on the adult learning process” demonstrated by professors like Lori Feldman, now associate dean of the College of Business, and how Professor of Finance Pat Obi “took these complicated formulas, simplified them, and made learning fun.”

“I DON’T THINK I COULD HAVE NOT DONE THIS ”.

A residual benefit to being in the program, she adds, was the opportunity it provided her to share “with people from many backgrounds the positive things the city of Gary is attempting to do.”

The graduate of Gary’s Theodore Roosevelt High School, Tuskegee University, and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN, articulates pride in having received “a stellar education from prominently African- American institutions.”

She advises young people figuring out their path in a complex society to “look at things introspectively and determine how you can contribute in ways that make a difference and afford you a way to make a living.”

Though Dr. Seabrook’s demeanor, perspective, and attire point to a successful business administrator, “Every now and then, I still put on my stethoscope,” she says with a smile.

–By Wes Lukoshus (MA ‘89)