The Cook County Department of Public Health is the state-certified health department with jurisdiction in 125 suburban communities and 28 townships (excluding the city of Chicago and the towns of Evanston, Skokie, Oak Park, Burbank, Stickney, and Forest View), covering a population of more than two million suburban residents. In order to meet local needs, the Department maintains offices in four regions: North, West, Southwest, and South. It works closely with the Chicago Department of Health, which maintains public health responsibility for the City of Chicago.
The Cook County Department of Public Health offers over 2,000 programs and special clinics a year, providing services that include: primary care, adult and school physicals, dental needs, family planning, immunizations, refugee medical care, HIV and sexually transmitted disease treatment, testing and counseling, prenatal care, well pediatric care, and the WIC Program. Over the past year, the Department has worked with the Ambulatory and Community Health Network to consolidate services, as appropriate, at the suburban primary care clinics to increase convenience for clients. To better serve adult clients with limited transportation, the Department of Public Health also sponsors a Wellness on Wheels Van.
Preventing disease sometimes requires an advocacy posture. In order to keep young people from becoming addicted to cigarettes, the Department of Public Health championed a Cook County ordinance that penalizes merchants who sell tobacco to minors. In 1998, the Department received and Achievement Award from the National Association of County and City Health officials for reducing access to tobacco products among teenagers. Since that time, the Department has continued to encourage the adoption of local ordinances as assists in monitoring merchant compliance.
By working with community partners, the Department of Public Health maximizes its outreach range and effectiveness. These collaborations include, as examples: a primary clinic partnership in Maywood with Loyola University; the Genesis Women, Infant and Children (WIC) Clinic with Lutheran General Hospital in Des Plaines; the Morton Health Center at Morton East High School with the MacNeal Family Practice Program; and a comprehensive school health education program with the Woodrow Wilson School in Calumet City.
The Department of Public Health is the Bureau’s lead affiliate for implementing the Access to Care Program, in conjunction with the suburban Primary Healthcare Council. Access to Care provides subsidized health services to suburban Cook County residents with limited financial resources. Through a partnership with private physicians, care is provided to more than 13,000 residents at private clinics located throughout the suburbs. The program, supported by state and county funds, makes efficient use of existing physician providers without establishing a duplicative delivery system.
A few illustrative statistics from 1998 reveal the breadth of the Department’s services and prevention efforts: more than 26,000 immunizations provided; more than 8,000 dental visits for treatment and sealant prevention; more than 115,000 WIC contacts for proper nutrition; more than 1,200 public swimming inspections; and more than 12,000 family planning consultations. As part of a state Medicaid support program, Department social workers maintain an average monthly caseload of 12,000 low-income mothers and their babies. As a registrar for vital statistics, the Department also records more than 23,000 births and 13,000 deaths a year for suburban Cook County. In addition, the Department has communicable disease control authority over its service area for more than 60 diseases.
Among its varied responsibilities, the Department enforces environmental health standards in many suburban communities. This includes functions such as retail food inspections and lead content analysis. More importantly, the Department develops educational strategies to prevent disease and illness spread through food, water, animals, insects, chemical hazards, and other agents. The Department of Public Health is also responsible for monitoring and evaluating key public health data measurements for suburban Cook County, broken down by region, and issues a Community Health Report Card.
The Department created a violence prevention coordinator position to spearhead efforts to apply a public health model of prevention to gun violence working closely with the Bureau’s anti-violence initiative. Because of the Department’s emphasis on education (it has 15 position health educator), information and training will play a key role in trying to change violent behaviors and activities that harm communities throughout the county.
By continuing to monitor the health status of Cook County, the Department plays a key role in the Bureau of Health Services’ efforts to create healthier communities.