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Letter from the CEO

Friday, August 21, 2020
Special to suffredin.org
by Interim CEO Debra D. Carey

Dear Cook County Health Friends and Partners,

As we approach the last few weeks of summer, it is important that we continue to follow local, state and federal guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19. We are seeing a major shift in the COVID-19 pandemic as more young people come down with the virus.

Now is not the time to back down in the fight against COVID-19. We all have to do our part by wearing masks, social distancing and limiting contact with other people.

It’s also important that residents in our communities stay on top of their overall health. We are pleased to see more patients calling and coming in for routine care and our care teams are ready to provide you the services you need.

Continuing to see your doctor is important. Over the last few months, we have seen how certain health issues, including diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, can increase the risk of COVID-19 complications.

This is especially true for minority communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on health inequities in our country. Earlier this summer, several Cook County Health colleagues participated in White Coats for Black Lives, a peaceful demonstration for our clinicians to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement and to draw attention to the issue of systemic racism in health care.

Cook County Health is proud of the work we have done for nearly two centuries to ensure that all individuals have access to high-quality health care, and I am grateful for the work our teams have done during the pandemic to reach out to at-risk populations to make sure they have the support and resources needed.

However, it’s not just COVID-19 that is a concern, particularly for African Americans. Black residents in Cook County also have been more severely impacted by the opioid crisis, the surge in gun violence and the increased rate in suicides this year.

Cook County Health continues to work to address these issues. In recent years, we have held a series of health and innovation summits with community leaders and organizations to discuss solutions for gun violence, the opioid epidemic, housing and food insecurity and issues surrounding the justice-involved population.

The pandemic has not alleviated these problems.

Gun violence continues to plague our communities. As of early June, Cook County Health had seen a 20 percent increase in the number of gun violence patients compared to the same time period last year. Even during Illinois’ stay-at-home order, Cook County Health was caring for more gun violence patients year over year.

Like gun violence, the opioid crisis seems to have worsened during the pandemic. On July 14, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle joined health officials at a press conference to sound the alarm about rising opioid deaths during the first half of the year.

In 2019, there were 1,267 opioid-related deaths in Cook County, with a total of 605 midway through the year. As of July 14 of this year, there have been 770 opioid-related deaths. African Americans and Latinos make up nearly two-thirds of overdose deaths confirmed so far this year.

Cook County Health is proud of our efforts to combat the opioid crisis with work in the communities, our health centers and the Cook County Jail. It is important that we continue to push evidence-based treatment and recovery options to help those with substance use disorders.

There have been more suicides so far this year in the Black community than in all of 2019. With a confirmed total of 58 suicides by African Americans as of August 4, 2020, Cook County is on pace for this to be the worst year for suicides in the Black community in a decade.

There is no simple solution. The problem is multi-factorial and must be addressed. Cook County Health has taken a system-wide approach to integrating behavioral health into its primary care model. We believe that conditions like depression and anxiety are often linked to chronic illness and many can be addressed in a primary care setting.

Stressors such as housing and food insecurity can contribute to depression and anxiety. Cook County Health is working to mitigate these factors through a variety of programs, including health food initiatives and housing partnerships.

Finally, as part of the FEMA Disaster Relief Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Cook County Department of Public Health is expanding the contract tracing program for COVID-19, hiring and training individuals to help us slow the spread. More information about the program and job opportunities is provided in this month’s newsletter.

Again, as we head into the end of these warm summer months, it is critical that we look out for one another. By taking into account the health of those around us, we can work together to further slow the spread of COVID-19 and to address other health issues that are impacting the most vulnerable of our Cook County residents.

Sincerely,

Debra D. Carey

Interim CEO



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