The Influentials, Part 5

Jeannine Peterson – CEO, Hamilton Health Center, Harrisburg

Jeannine Peterson knows that life comes full circle. As in, the former state deputy health secretary who oversaw drug and alcohol services, mental health, communicable diseases and preventive health is now CEO for Hamilton Health Center, which provides a full menu of those same health services for Central Pennsylvanians.

“It’s interesting how things go 360 degrees,” she says.

After 22 years in state government, Peterson became a health care consultant in the Washington, D.C. area while still retaining her seat on the board of Hamilton Health Center. This was the late 1990s when the center, founded in 1969, had accumulated a $2 million deficit. Peterson accepted the board’s request that she step into the CEO role to “right-size” the floundering organization.

The appointment was meant to be temporary. That was in 2000. “I found my passion,” she says now.

The first task was filling that $2 million hole, accomplished largely through improved insurance-payment collections and finding new grants. The second task was envisioned around 2006. It was time to collect the center’s scattered facilities under one roof.

“I believe that this vision had been given to me,” Peterson says. “The board believed in the vision that I set forth, and so we were committed to making it happen.”

In September 2012, the new Hamilton Health Center opened its doors. A former printing plant in South Allison Hill was gutted and transformed into a bright, calming, kind of shopping mall for medical and dental care and WIC nutrition services. In 2014, phase two was completed, with dedicated pediatrics and mental-health services.

The sprawling space is now a trusted neighborhood institution and a catalyst for economic revitalization. Partnerships with other organizations, including Harrisburg School District and the Harrisburg Housing Authority, are critical to success. Rotary Club is establishing vision services there. Plans are underway to build a child-care center next door.

Patients come from Cumberland, Perry and Northern Dauphin counties as well as the city and its environs, “because the need is so great for affordable health care.”

“People have described this as the oasis in the desert,” Peterson says. “It’s hope for people, and it’s shown that they can be treated with dignity and respect.”

Outside the office, Peterson enjoys shopping and traveling with her 28-year-old daughter. Her husband, Bill Peterson, still runs the business they co-founded years ago, the Center for Community Building. She is active with the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority’s community health, scholarship and literacy projects. She serves on the CREDC and United Way of the Capital Region boards.

Inside her naturally lit office, Peterson’s awards line the windowsill. She has won many of the area’s most distinguished recognitions, but “if there was nothing up here, that would be all right, too.” She is blessed to work with “some phenomenal people here,” but God “is at the basis of all of it,” bidding her to do his work.

“Every day, I go out my door and go downstairs, and I can see hundreds of people that we’re helping every single day, and that’s the story,” she says. “That’s what means so much to me.”

For more information about Hamilton Health Center, visit their website here.