Dr. William Ellert has spent a lifetime caring for others, a journey that began as a teenager working in a nursing home and now finds him as Chief Medical Officer for Abrazo Community Health Network.
Along the way, he vowed to serve those less fortunate and today stands as a community leader helping people who are homeless. He can’t imagine a life without service.
“When the homeless and people of little means and few resources have been a part of your life since your early 20s, that community begins to affect who you are as a person and to ever exclude them would be foreign to me,’’ Ellert says. “A part of my life would be missing without being involved with them.’’
Dr. Ellert traces his passion for service to a life-altering decision he made as a young man. He spent the early part of his life living and working with the Franciscan friars and was struck by the brothers’ street ministry to homeless people. Having been raised in a small town in Indiana, Dr. Ellert had very little exposure to homelessness. He went on to devote more than 20 years working alongside the Franciscans to care for people in need and later made a personal commitment to continue serving the community.
Medical respite for the homeless
Dr. Ellert’s most current volunteer role is with Circle the City, a connection that started with a shoebox full of money that was being used to meet the unmet needs of the homeless during times of illness. He had been seeing patients at the county-run Healthcare for the Homeless and was serving on the organization’s advisory board. Fellow physician Sister Adele O’Sullivan approached him with the shoebox and an idea: a medical respite center for people who are homeless.
Both Dr. Ellert and Dr. O’Sullivan, through their work at the homeless clinic, saw the need for a place for the homeless to heal after an acute hospitalization or to prepare for a medical procedure. The alternative was grim. How could a homeless man with a bone infection handle six weeks of home intravenous antibiotics when his “home’’ was a park bench? How could a homeless woman with a new cancer diagnosis ensure chemotherapy without a support system or bed to recuperate from the side effects of treatment?
Dr. Ellert dove in, agreeing to help set up the non-profit Circle the City and later helped get the respite center open. During the initial months of operation, Dr. Ellert not only provided administrative support, but also saw patients in the evenings and on weekends. Currently, as the chairman of the board, his focus in on providing the strategic, clinical and quality guidance to assure the organization continues to grow and meet its mission to the homeless. Circle the City is currently in the process of opening a family medicine clinic dedicated to meeting the ongoing healthcare needs of the homeless.
Health care leader
Dr. Ellert’s devotion to community service is matched by his commitment to the health care profession and healing.
As a teenager, he got his first glimpse of the profession when he worked in a nursing home run by Franciscan Sisters. Just 16 years old at the time, Dr. Ellert began what would become a decades-long adventure caring for others, first as a registered nurse and then as a physician.
Dr. Ellert’s medical career took him from the East Coast to Arizona, where he held various leadership positions before joining Abrazo as Chief Medical Officer in 2014.
Honored by peers
Over the decades, Dr. Ellert, who is board certified by the American Board of Family Medicine, has been lauded by his peers for his work as a physician and teacher. Topping the list of awards is the 2009 National Family Physician of the Year by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
But those who work alongside Dr. Ellert say what stands out most is his quiet compassion helping and healing others.
“Dr. Ellert has been a champion for the homeless of Maricopa County for many years now. Whether in the capacity of physician or chairman of the board, Dr. Ellert’s compassion for this population shines through in all he does,’’ says Brandon Clark, chief executive officer of Circle the City. “He jumps in with both feet, helping in whatever ways he is able.’’
Dr. Ellert doesn’t know any other way than serving the community. “It becomes part of the cadence of your own life.”