Partnership with Skokie Health Department Garners Award Worthy Benefits
From tackling childhood obesity to improving air and water quality, the years-long partnership between Skokie Health Department and the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health (UIC SPH) has garnered award worthy benefits. For its contributions to the Village since 2010, UIC SPH is being honored this year with Skokie’s sixth annual Public Health Partners in Excellence Award. Typically, two individuals or entities are recognized for their exceptional assistance to the Village, but this year, because its work has positively impacted such a wide range of areas, UIC SPH is the sole recipient.
The Skokie Health Department has served as a practicum site for UIC SPH Master of Public Health students since 2010. Since the partnership began, seventeen students have assisted in various projects that have benefitted both the Village and the students, said Catherine Counard, MD, (MPH ’02), Skokie’s Director of Health. “In fact, we would be hard pressed to have completed this work without the help of the students,” Dr. Counard said.
Village Board of Trustees gave the award at their May 2, 2016 meeting formally recognizing UIC SPH’s contributions.
While the partnership assists the Village in meeting various community health needs, it’s helping students by providing real world experiences in public policy. The collaboration further helps students fulfill clinical practicum requirements needed to earn their MPH degrees.
Projects made possible through the partnership include the work of Glenview-based pediatrician and UIC alum Dr. Leslie Cordes. During her 2014-2015 internship, Dr. Cordes worked with the Skokie Health Department to establish childhood obesity rates in the Village, by collecting and analyzing aggregate data from the health records of more than 2,000 public school students. Of her experience, Dr. Cordes wrote: “As a pediatrician studying public health… I learned that the community approach to reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity must be built on strong partnerships and informed by available evidence.” Other projects have included rodent control, increasing access to health care, strengthening the tuberculosis testing program, and completing the state recertification process.
Most recently, UIC SPH students researched similar communities locally and nationally to develop a proposed Skokie Environmental Sustainability Plan. Their recommendations, currently under the Village’s review, include:
- Encouragement of the use of free rain barrels provided by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago to aid in water conservation.
- Conversion of street and parking lot lighting to LED bulbs to promote energy conservation.
- Improvement of the Village’s bicycle infrastructure.
The environmental policy project was spurred in the spring of 2015 after Dr. Counard gave a lecture to EOHS students at UIC SPH. A student asked why the Village had not developed an environmental health plan and Dr. Counard responded it was because as a “smaller village” they did not have the personpower to do so, recalled Dr. Sherry Brandt-Rauf, research associate professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at UIC SPH.
“I was at the lecture and I said ‘I have students!’” reported Dr. Brandt-Rauf. She and her husband Paul Brandt-Rauf, who is the Dean of the UIC SPH and who accepted the award on behalf of the school, are Skokie residents.
She told Dr. Counard that drawing up the proposed plan would be the perfect task for the students in her spring semester seminar in environmental and occupational health policy. “It was like a match made in heaven,” Dr. Brandt-Rauf said. “It was a unique sort of marriage of people and resources that we could provide cost-free to the Village of Skokie while fulfilling our mission of teaching students about environment policy - by making environmental policy.”
Tessa Bonney, (MPH ’16) was one of nine students developing Skokie’s environmental plan. “I found that the project was a great way to apply what I'd been learning in school to help find a solution for a nearby community,” she said. “A big take away was that it is really possible to integrate academia to help inform and provide resources to plan and complete community projects.”
Ms. Bonney, who will continue her education pursuing a PhD at UIC SPH in the division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, said that within one semester, she and her fellow students helped research and organize information relevant to Skokie that could be used to create an appropriate Environmental Action Plan. “Because we worked on such a strict timeline we were able to collect and organize a lot of information from other communities regarding their environmental action plans and initiatives. We were able to make specific recommendations to Skokie stakeholders,” she said. “The community members and elected officials were really invested in the project and sought to include them in meetings and discussions about the project and relevant community issues.”
“All of the work that we put into researching and preparing suggestions for Skokie were really well received,” Ms. Bonney said. “The community stakeholders were transparent about their goals and what they would be able to take on, which was extremely helpful to us.”
What Ms. Bonney learned as part of her semester-long involvement in the collaboration likely will influence her life and career, a primary goal of the partnership. “One of the biggest take aways from the experience was the need to balance the desires of community members and elected officials with our research findings regarding best practices for environmental action plans,” she said. “I think that the experience working with multiple stakeholders to accomplish a community project will help me in the future.”