Pillars and Community Nurse, two of the area’s largest nonprofit groups, are in discussions about a possible merger, bringing together mental health care and physical health care under one brand.
Pillars is the largest nonprofit mental health and social services provider in the western and southwestern suburbs, while Community Nurse, which is based in La Grange, provides medical and dental health care to low-income residents of the western suburbs.
Pillars serves several communities in the area, including Berwyn, Broadview, Brookfield, Burr Ridge, Cicero, Clarendon Hills, Countryside, Darien, Hinsdale, Hodgkins, Indian Head Park, La Grange, La Grange Park, Lyons, McCook, North Riverside, Oak Brook, Riverside, Stickney, Westchester, Western Springs, Westmont, Willow Springs and Willowbrook.
The discussions, which began in March, are in their early stages, but a merger or an increased partnership could give the community better access to mental health, medical and dental care. A new name has yet to be discussed.
The two organizations currently have a partnership in place, as Pillars therapists work on-site at Community Nurse to provide mental health care to its patients. Ann Schreiner, CEO and president of Pillars, said the merger “just makes sense” because increasing the partnership between the two organizations would allow better access to care.
“Patients can get their primary care needs met and their mental health needs met. We can treat the whole person under one roof,” she said. “Nationally, the health care sector is focused on strong integration between primary care and mental health. There can be a mental health component to chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes. We talk often about how we can further collaborate and reduce barriers to care. When mental health providers work in tandem with primary care providers, there is an increased opportunity for enhanced positive outcomes.”
Angela Curran, CEO and president of Community Nurse, agreed with Schreiner that a merger would greatly benefit the patients and clients of both organizations.
“We’re very much in favor [of a merger or increased partnership] because it puts more focus on integrated services,” she said. “We’re responding to what the community needs, and there is a need for integration for our population, which includes low-income and underserved individuals.”
If a full merger isn’t approved by both organizations’ Boards of Directors, Schreiner said there are other ways of enhancing the partnership between the groups, such as sharing clinical data electronically, or possibly sharing back-office functions.
“It’s a continuum. One end is what we have now, where our therapists are on-site at Community Nurse, and the opposite end is a complete merger. There are places in between the two end points,” she said. “We want to be transparent that we’re having these conversations, so folks know we’re working together and building an opportunity to enhance that partnership.”
Pillars and Community Nurse would keep the same funding streams, which include federal and state monies, grants, foundation donations and private donors, Curran said. She anticipates no jobs would be lost in either organization and thinks more jobs could be added in the future.
“There’s not a lot of overlap in staffing. It’s more of a vertical merger,” Curran said. “This is very much a win-win situation. [Community Nurse and Pillars] are both very committed to our communities, and we’re both in favor of increasing our partnership.”
The Boards of Directors for each organization will meet in late July to make recommendations. If a merger is approved, Curran said the earliest it would take effect would be January.
“The board has been supportive of the conversations. Both boards are looking to make sure this is good for patients, good for the community, and if this will enhance long-term sustainability for the missions of both organizations,” she said.