We Are One, The History of Milwaukee Health Services, Inc.
“Harambee” is the Swahili word for “pulling together”. It has also become, since the mid-1970s, the most widely used name for a neighborhood on Milwaukee’s north side. The Harambee community is just north of downtown Milwaukee and is bounded by I-43 on the west, Capitol Drive to the north, Holton St. on the east, and Walnut Street to the south. Harambee Community School opened in 1969 at the former St. Elizabeth School building, 110 W Burleigh St. New programs were launched and many more were proposed. A nun, who was also a school nurse, was concerned that families were in need of healthcare, so a health center was opened in the basement of the Harambee school.
During the 1970’s Harambee started a health committee, expanded its services and moved to Garfield Park now known as the Clinton Rose Center at 3045 N. Martin Luther King Dr. Patients were treated by nurse practitioners.
During the late ‘70s Reuben Harpole, a member of the School Closing Committee for the Milwaukee Public Schools, voted to grant the Fifth Street School building located at 2770 N. 5th Street to the City of Milwaukee for the purpose of housing the Harambee Health Center. Mildred Harpole, chair of the health committee for the Harambee Health Center proposed to the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and members of Fisk University the strategic growth plan of the health center. The city of Milwaukee was awarded $5 million from the foundation to continue the mission of the health center.
State Representative Marcia Coggs and family were supporters of the center. In 1978 the name was changed to the Isaac Coggs Health Connection dedicated to Rep. Coggs’ husband, Isaac Coggs, the first African American Assemblyman to Chair a Wisconsin Legislative committee.
One year later, Milwaukee Comprehensive Community Health (MCCH) was funded under the Inner City Development Project (ICDP) which focused on solving problems pertaining to poverty faced by minority groups in urban areas. Milwaukee Comprehensive Community Health would manage four health centers, one of which was the Isaac Coggs Health Connection.
Over time, Milwaukee Comprehensive Community Health was not able to support all four facilities. So, in 1988, the ICDP North Side Center applied for a Community Health Center 330 Federal Grant. This allowed only the Isaac Coggs Health Connection center to evolve into a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC).
Due to operational challenges, The Dept of Health and Human Services HRSA- Health Resources and Services Administration division, restructured the health center’s parent company in 1989. The Milwaukee Comprehensive Community Health dissolved allowing Milwaukee Health Services, Inc. (MHSI) to be established as the new parent company of the existing Isaac Coggs Health Connection community health center. Martin Luther King Jr. Heritage Health Center was built in 1995 and became MHSI’s second health center.
Organizational challenges plagued MHSI leading up to 2002. Senator Spencer Coggs requested assistance from the former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, who was at that time the U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services. Secretary Thompson agreed to help. The former Governor directed agencies to assess the Federally Qualified Health Center. The federal agency overseeing the centers recommended its closure. Secretary Thompson refused. Secretary Thompson personally requested Senator Coggs to assume the position as the new Board Chairman. CC Henderson was recruited and hired as the new President & CEO.
Despite his compassion for the people, Mr. Henderson’s vision was to manage the health centers as a business and not as free clinics. He strived and gained respect in the community politically and professionally. Mr. Henderson was a true “Renaissance Man”.
In 2006, Dr. Tito Izard was hired as Chief Medical Officer to help relocate the Isaac Coggs Health Connection to 8200 W. Silver Spring Dr. and expand the clinical programs. The center’s name was changed to Isaac Coggs Heritage Health Center. Over the next few years, Milwaukee Health Services, Inc. recruited and employed more African American and minority providers than any other healthcare practice in the state of Wisconsin, an accomplishment that remains today. In 2009 the MHS Convenient Care Clinic was opened as the first FQHC immediate care clinic in a grocery store in the United States. In 2010 MHSI recorded its one-millionth medical appointment. On Friday, August 27, 2010, Cicero Caesar Henderson passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Although the community mourned the loss of its adopted son, CC Henderson, it embraced the Board of Directors’ passing of the legacy to Milwaukee’s native son, Dr. Tito Izard, as the new President & CEO for the organization.
With a vision shared, a staff committed and a community supporting, MHSI, celebrates “Harambee- pulling together” with over 30 years of service.