She raised her hand with enthusiasm, much faster than any of the other children sitting cross legged in the circle. Granted, she was still just a little girl. However, Gary native Janet Seabrook already had big girl dreams. On that day, she knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she wanted to not only exclaim it to her teacher, but her entire kindergarten class.
Janet wanted to be a doctor.
“I specifically remember all the kids laughing at my answer,” says Dr. Janet Seabrook, Executive Director of Gary-based Community HealthNet. “Back in those days, the men were the doctors, and the ladies were the nurses. That was just the way it was. But I didn’t care. I loved the idea of using a stethoscope and taking care of people.”
Luckily, not everyone laughed at her career aspirations. Her kindergarten teacher Mrs. Springer quickly explained to Janet and her fellow classmates that “you could be anything you wanted to be," and Janet believed every word.
With the undying support of family and friends, Seabrook went from that kindergarten class to spend years of schooling to prepare for a career within the medical field. “I was the first one in my immediate family to graduate from college,” she says. “I was always encouraged by my family to not only express myself, but to do whatever I needed to do to make my dreams come true.”
Even when money was tight, she found scholarships to put her through school. She took a job at McDonald's and worked as a substitute teacher. She helped out at church and participated in various summer programs specifically formed to serve underserved areas. The Meharry Medical School graduate practiced medicine in Gary since 1996, but was inspired to do more when the U.S. Public Health Services designated Gary as the neediest community in the nation without a community health center.
So, in 1997, she helped found Community HealthNet.
“The first patients we saw were in this little trailer that we parked in the parking lot,” she says. “Those first few patients had to have a ton of trust in us and our abilities to walk into a trailer in order to see a doctor.”
Community HealthNet is a nonprofit community based primary health care organization dedicated to providing accessible, affordable, comprehensive and quality health service regardless of ability to pay. These days under Seabrook’s direction, Community HealthNet has grown tremendously with the goal to become a medical home for its patients, providing primary care services in each cycle of life, from prenatal care to geriatric services.
In 2004, Seabrook was promoted to executive director and began to see her team around her not only grow, but become inspired. “It’s extremely gratifying for me to see people who have come here to help, and have gone back to get their medical degrees because they want to stay here,” she says.”To see medical assistants go back to nursing school for example gives this place a real sense of community.”
“When you are in a room with her, her enthusiasm in downright infectious,” says Beryl Fitzpatrick, Director of Operations and Compliances for Community HealthNet. “She is such a forward thinker, and is always open to learn more ways to use her skills in service to others.”
One of the aspects that Seabrook is most enthusiastic about these days is Community HealthNet’s school-based clinics, which target not only students, but has expanded services to treat adults as well. “It’s best for preventative healthcare to start earlier than later,” Seabrook says. “When they are young, these kids are coming in for immunizations and well checks, but after that, we lose them during high school and college. This is why these school based clinics are so very important.”
“(Seabrook) is a legend in this area in terms of healthcare,” says Fitzpatrick, who began working at Community HealthNet earlier this year after working in healthcare for the past 25 years. “She has such optimism for the cause, and is determined to provide healthcare to anyone who needs it.”
So what does this health care legend do when she is not among the patients of Community HealthNet? Chances are you just might find her in the kitchen, cooking up some of her famous bruschetta and feeling blessed as to where life has led her and for the people who supported her medical dreams. Because whether speaking at a meeting or conversing with patients at Community HealthNet, there often sits yet another person who has always been there to make sure little Janet’s dream came true – her kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Springer.
“A few years back, she gave me a figurine that had the words “Reach for the Stars' that now sits in my office,” says Seabrook quietly. “I will never, ever forget those words.”