The village of Oak Park is expanding its public health department by two full-time positions, both yet to be filled. The village board unanimously approved the addition of a health education manager and an environmental health supervisor during its Aug. 2 meeting. The positions will fulfill and expand duties currently performed by the understaffed health department.
“It’ll definitely cover some of the extra things that I’ve been doing and allow me to really be the director of the health department,” Public Health Director Theresa Chapple-McGruder told Wednesday Journal.
Currently, the health department comprises five individuals. Once the two positions are filled, the village will be roughly three people short of having a fully staffed health department, according to Chapple-McGruder.
Oak Park had consciously reduced staffing in public health over several years owing to financial constraints and, pre-COVID, the belief that duties in public health could be consolidated.
The village of Oak Park is eligible to use America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to pay the salaries of the two positions. If the positions are compensated through ARPA, the future village board would have to identify a different funding source come 2026, when the village must have all ARPA funds spent.
The recently hired public health director described the responsibilities of her department as protecting the health of the community, promoting good health practices and preventing diseases. The focus of the health department during the pandemic has been disease prevention, namely the COVID-19 virus. Having a health education manager and an environmental health supervisor will help the health department fulfill its other duties more wholly.
An entirely new position, the health education manager is intended to increase the health literacy of the community through education about infectious and chronic diseases, as well as such health concerns as youth vaping, mental health issues, and obesity. The health education manager will also play an important role in combatting timidity regarding vaccines.
“That health education unit would be in charge of dealing with vaccine hesitancy concerns and trying to increase our vaccination rates,” said Chapple-McGruder.
Those efforts will address more than just COVID-19 vaccinations. In preparation for flu season, the health education manager will work to better educate the community about the flu vaccine with the hopes that the flu vaccination rate rises. The health education manager will likewise assist schools in keeping students up to date with inoculations.
“I see this position as working closely with the schools to be able to help remind parents that now it’s time to get your kids’ vaccinations,” the public health director said.
Another responsibility of the health education manager is helping the village carry out the Illinois Project for Local Assessment of Needs (IPLAN), a community health needs assessment. Public health departments must conduct the IPLAN every five years to maintain certification under the state of Illinois.
The environmental health supervisor isn’t an entirely new position, despite it being referred as such during the Aug. 2 village board meeting. The village had an environmental supervisor up until 2015, when Chapple-McGruder’s predecessor Mike Charley was promoted to public health director. Charley had served as environmental supervisor until his appointment. That job was collapsed and merged with another due to budgetary constraints at the time, according to Village Manager Cara Pavlicek.
The environmental health supervisor oversees the village’s licensed environmental health practitioner and its animal control officer. The practitioner inspects restaurants, grocery stores, tattoo parlors and childcare centers to ensure the businesses abide by health guidelines. Oak Park has approximately 300 facilities that require inspection from the practitioner at a rate of one to three times a year. Other aspects of environmental health include testing the community’s lead levels and water. The position of environmental health supervisor requires licensing in lead abatement, food protection and water safety.
“We also are hoping to start a wastewater testing program to test for COVID in wastewater,” said Chapple-McGruder.
The animal control aspect of environmental health ranges beyond contending with the village’s rat population. The issuance of pet licensing and capturing of coyotes also fall under the animal control umbrella, as does dealing with nuisance wildlife on public property. Animal control also handles rabies and animal bites.
Chapple McGruder called the work of the environmental health supervisor “intense.”