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Heroes For Better

Community Bands Together for Mental Health Resources

A Difficult Road Marked by Gratitude


The pandemic has wreaked havoc on businesses large and small. While innovation and creativity has allowed some to pivot quickly and adapt, the stress can leave a lingering impact on both leaders and employees. That’s why Northwestern Medicine and Algonquin/Lake in the Hills Chamber of Commerce, which has 341 members, teamed up to help community leaders navigate these challenging times.

Hosting Mental Health Seminars for the Community

“COVID-19 was really unique because most of us have never come across or seen a pandemic,” says Renee Erling, executive director, Algonquin/Lake in the Hills Chamber of Commerce. “None of us were really prepared.”

Northwestern Medicine was able to equip the community quickly with knowledge and information. “This partnership has given us the ability to provide factual information. Northwestern Medicine provided access to education, which is number one, as well as increased awareness for our community,” says Erling.

Additionally, a core group was formed to call and check on members. Northwestern Medicine Community Support Specialist for External and Community Affairs Sarah Santoria, who is also a Chamber board member, offered to help reach out to community members. During these calls, many expressed their concerns.

“There was a lot of uncertainty. It seemed like it was a common thread,” says Santoria. “It was a simple solution that our health system provide that information to the community and connect those dots.”

As a result, Northwestern Medicine hosted a webinar, Supporting Employees' Mental Health During a Pandemic, for 50 local businesses and stakeholders. Among the presenters were Natalie Freeman, LPC, CDWF, a case therapist with Northwestern Medicine Behavioral Health; and Judy Pasternack, BSN, RN, NPD-BC, a professional development specialist at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital, Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital and Northwestern Medicine Woodstock Hospital.

“It was a great way for business leaders to get resources for themselves and their employees,” says Santoria.”But it also allowed them to know they were not alone. And more importantly, there are resources to help.”

Erling adds,“We were able to reach the groups that needed to be reached and disseminate the information.”   

Continued Support for the Road Ahead

The seminar was held in May 2020, which helped businesses prepare early on in the pandemic. “We wanted to get this out early on,” says Santoria. “We know it’s a process, and wanted to get in front of it as much as we could. We wanted to have that conversation and address real issues they were facing.”

Although the road ahead is still unknown, Erling comments how proud she is of the community. “It was difficult, but our businesses responded very well and knew where to turn,” she says. “Working with Northwestern Medicine has been a great resource for us and the community, and I look forward to the future prosperity while building a key partnership.”

“We are seeing a lot of gratitude in the community. Little gestures make a huge impact, and they’re very grateful for that,” says Santoria. “A lot of people have been working hard to help others, even though their business is being affected.”

In the midst of all of the challenges, Northwestern Medicine has made a commitment to continue supporting the communities it serves. “It’s essential to have our employees immersed in the community to listen and have a seat at the table. What can we do better? What can we do to push out the resources the community needs?” says Santoria. “This is an ongoing process, and those needs will change as the months go by. But you have support and resources available along the way. You don’t have to feel alone and forge ahead by yourself.”