The COVID-19 pandemic put public health officials front and center.
Now, the city of Chicago has a new public health commissioner filling this high-profile role after the ousting of Dr. Allison Arwady in August.
Dr. Olusimbo “Simbo” Ige is the first Black woman to lead the Chicago Department of Public Health on a permanent basis.
Before, she was managing a nonprofit in New Jersey and spending much of her career serving as assistant commissioner for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Ige, tapped by Mayor Brandon Johnson, has been on the job for a little over a month.
Johnson campaigned hard on his push for the return of more mental health clinics after former mayors closed 14 of them. His budget called for restoring two.
“That is a commitment,” Ige said. “We are firm on that commitment, and we are not going to slow down in trying to achieve that goal. Right now, we’re working with the community representatives to help identify where these clinics should be located.”
She added the department has also started recruiting the workforce that’s going to manage these clinics to make it a reality.
“Our communities have had a long history of disinvestment, and we know that mental health goes along with physical and social health,” Ige said. “That’s the triangle, so we want to make sure that when we open our clinics, it is providing a clean slate of services that our communities need.”
But there’s a looming fiscal cliff for her department.
2024 is the last year the city can appropriate COVID-19 relief funds, which must be spent by 2026, adding a complexity to the funding of public health.
“We have emergencies, and with emergencies come a surge of funding and then when emergencies are declared to have ended, the funding goes away with it, but our public health challenges remain,” Ige said. “We are advocating very strongly for a more flexible kind of funding that can provide us the opportunity to respond to all of the needs, not just one infectious disease at a time.”