Greater Peoria Metro Area, IL

Working with the community... for a healthier community.

Care Comes From the Heart


Cristy L. Tomaszewski, LCSW

Traveling through this great country, one is greeted by people from all walks of life—from every culture, ethnicity, creed, and color. The United States is a tapestry woven from every type of thread.

Not all forms of diversity are positive however. The larger the population is, the greater the disparity of problems, particularly when it comes to receiving healthcare.

In order to address such problems, Peoria’s medical, business, and religious communities developed Heartland Health Services (HHS). For the past 30 years, Heartland has been working to provide health care for those who, despite helping make up that tapestry of America, cannot afford healthcare on their own.

Heart of the Community
“Heartland started as a ‘free’ clinic in 1991 on N.E. Monroe Street,” recalls HHS Director of Development and Marketing Michelle Sanders. “Dr. David Gorenz, a pulmonologist, and his wife, Christi, founded Heartland Community Health Clinic.”

In its first iteration, Heartland was staffed by only one paid, full-time person. Everyone else who contributed services did so on a volunteer basis. The three hospitals in Peoria at the time—Methodist, St. Francis, and Proctor—provided diagnostic testing and inpatient services on a monthly rotation at no charge to patients.

“Healthcare began changing and volunteers were getting to be fewer and fewer,” Michelle continues. “Dr. Gorenz put together a community group to apply for a federal grant to become a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC).”

With that funded grant, on February 1, 2004, Heartland Free Clinic became Heartland Community Health Clinic and was designated as a community health center, moving to Garden Street on the south end of Peoria. Now, Heartland Health Services has six locations in Peoria and two in Pekin, serving over 22,000 patients annually.

“HHS offers behavioral health services through our licensed clinical social workers, virtual visits to existing patients, and provides Ob/Gyn services in Peoria and Pekin,” Michelle adds. “Additionally we have community health workers to assist with health coverage, community resources, and to address issues associated with social determinants of health.”

“Heartland strives to serve those with the greatest health disparities,” she continues. “Providing high quality healthcare to all is the mission of HHS. We want everyone to have a sense of wellness with Heartland and be the medical home of choice.”

Women’s Wellness
No home or community functions quite right without the unique strength of women. However, many women, particularly wives and mothers, oft tend to forget about their own needs as they are so focused on helping others.

To make matters worse, this last year has seen many women in the community drained physically and emotionally due to having to take on roles with which they were unaccustomed, says Jennifer Kolettis, a family nurse practitioner working in the specialty of women’s health at HHS. “My hope is that women and families are able to greet the new year with a positive outlook and focus on wellness.”

Positive self-talk and self-care are a significant component of their overall wellness, she says. “I encourage women to practice mindfulness, practice living with intention, and never be afraid to ask for help.”

A way HHS offers that help is through a yearly comprehensive physical called the Well Woman Exam. These are especially important as women move past their childbearing years. “We focus on disease prevention and health promotion,” Jennifer explains. “We make sure women are up to date on important screenings such as pap smears and mammograms. This visit is also an opportunity for women to discuss issues they may have with anything from weight loss to depression to sexual health; nothing is off limits.”

“Heartland Health Services offers our patients an integrated medical home,” she continues. “I love that we have specialty resources in the clinic that I can reach out to if needed, such as social work, pediatrics, and primary care. Our partnership with University of Illinois College of Medicine-Peoria allows me to stay current with research and challenges me to grow as a provider.”

Social Work
English poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island,” meaning individuals do not prosper in isolation and need to be a part of a larger community in order to be healthy and thrive. A community likewise only thrives when its individuals bring with them positive personalities and life experiences.

“The wellness of an individual and the community are very closely intertwined,” confirms Cristy Tomaszewski, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) at Heartland’s Carver and Knoxville locations. “There is an approach called the person-in-environment. Individuals can be heavily influenced by their environment. We are also looking at a bigger picture, including the community in which the individual resides when an individual presents with a mental health concern. It gives us a better understanding of how they view the world, how they think, and respond in the way they do.”

Because the individual and the community form a sort of feedback loop, whatever one brings to the table directly affects the other—for good or bad. For instance, one’s mental health issues can negatively affect one’s community, but because such issues have carried a stigma in society for centuries, society itself can create barriers to an individual seeking treatment for such issues.

Cristy says this is why remaining positive is so important. “An optimistic attitude is a good indicator that an individual is more open to therapeutic interventions.” Without that positivity, an individual can negatively impact homelessness, poverty, employment, safety, or cause disruptions in the community.

“Maladaptive behaviors are also learned behaviors,” Cristy explains, “which can interrupt the ability of the children in our community to succeed. It is a cycle.” With three recently hired LCSWs, Heartland is Heartland Health Services is therefore, aptly named. In their 30 years of operation, their mission has remained the same: improving the overall health of the community by both starting and ending with the care of the individual.

Heartland Health Services has eight locations throughout the Peoria and Pekin areas. Contact us at (309) 680-7600 or visit us online at