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System News: Letter from Cook County Helath CEO Israel Rocha, Jr.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021
Special to



Dear Cook County Health Friends and Partners,

Last month, Cook County Health marked another milestone in our COVID-19 vaccination efforts, with the administration of our 900,000th dose. It is a remarkable achievement for the organization and a credit to the efforts of so many people who have worked very hard to ensure widespread and equitable access to the vaccine.

While I am proud of these efforts, I know that there is more work to be done. More than 60% of suburban Cook County residents have had at least one dose of the vaccine, but we must continue to educate those individuals who have not gotten their shot about the importance and safety of the vaccines, and make it as easy as possible to get vaccinated. As we head into the fall and winter, and as variants continue to emerge, we are at a critical juncture in our fight against COVID-19.

As health care workers, we set the tone and are leading by example, which is why all Cook County Health staff are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This policy will ensure that CCH is doing everything it can to protect our patients, staff and communities from infection.

The science is clear. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

By setting an example, we hope to build trust in the vaccine for our patients and those in Cook County who remain hesitant. I believe our staff are our best ambassadors of the vaccine. Our providers have been active in Chicagoland media dispelling myths about the vaccine, talking about the importance of vaccinations and sharing their own stories about why they chose to be vaccinated.

Recognizing the important relationship between a patient and their doctor, we have launched the next phase of our vaccine ad campaign, titled “Trust Us”, in which CCH physicians express their confidence in the vaccine and ask you to trust them when they say to get vaccinated. Learn more about that in a story below.


Please share the information below with the communities you serve. The last 18 months have been unprecedented and providing the latest information on the COVID-19 virus is critical to ensuring a healthy Cook County. For more information about the COVID-19 vaccines or to find a vaccination site, visit or call 833-308-1988.


Israel Rocha, Jr.


COVID-19 Update

COVID-19 Booster Shot Information

Cook County Health will offer COVID-19 Pfizer booster shots to eligible individuals as identified by the FDA and CDC:

·People 65 years and older and residents in long-term care settings

·People aged 50–64 years with underlying medical conditions

·People ages 18 to 49 with underlying medical conditions may get the booster shot "based on their individual benefits and risks"

·People aged 18-64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational risk

At this time, Pfizer boosters are only being offered to individuals who are six months from their second dose. Previously, the FDA and CDC approved third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for the severely immunocompromised. Patients should bring their vaccine card when they come for their booster.

Call your doctor if you have any questions.

Cook County Health community health centers will continue to offer first and second doses.

All doses will be administered based on walk-in availability. People can still make appointments at or by calling 833-308-1988.

Visit for hours and locations.

Understanding the COVID-19 Variants

Dr. Katayoun Rezai is an infectious disease physician at Cook County Health. With the Delta and Mu variants making news, she breaks down what this means.

What is a variant and how does it form?

Viruses constantly change through mutations, which cause new variants. By changing and mutating, the virus can better survive and cause more infections.

The uncontrolled spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, means the virus is mutating quickly. That is why new variants are seen in countries with the highest infection rates and large numbers of unvaccinated people.

Why should we be concerned about variants?

Some of the variants are classified as variants of interest or concern based on how easily they spread, how severe their symptoms might be, and how they are treated. The variants that are currently a concern in the U.S. include:

·Alpha-B.1.1.7 – first identified in the United Kingdom, the alpha variant is about 50% more contagious than the original strain. It is susceptible to currently approved vaccines and monoclonal antibodies still work against this variant.

·Beta-B.1.351 – first identified in South Africa, like Alpha variant it is about 50% more contagious. It is better at evading our immune system and certain monoclonal antibody treatments are less effective. Currently approved vaccines do work against this vaccine. There are few documented cases of the beta variant in the US.

·Gamma-P.1 – first identified in Japan/Brazil, certain monoclonal antibody treatments are less effective. Currently approved vaccines do work against this vaccine.

·Delta-B.1.617.2 – first identified in India and currently the predominant strain in the US. It is more than twice as contagious as the original variant. Studies are underway to assess the efficacy of currently approved vaccines and monoclonal antibody treatments. Some studies indicate that the delta variant can cause more severe illness than previous variants in unvaccinated people.

·Mu (B1.621) – first identified in Colombia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not currently list mu as a variant of interest or concern. The World Health Organization (WHO) added Mu to its list of variants of interest due to outbreaks in Europe and South America as it might escape the immune system and current vaccines might not be as effective. Currently, 0.2% of variants in the US are Mu variants.

What is important to know about variants?

What is important to remember is that most of the hospitalizations and deaths caused by COVID-19 are in unvaccinated people. Unvaccinated people remain the greatest concern as the highest risk of transmission is among unvaccinated people who are much more likely to get infected, and therefore transmit the virus.

Fully vaccinated people are being infected far less often than unvaccinated people. While the vaccines work very well they are not 100% effective, so we do expect some level of infection in vaccinated individuals. An infection in a vaccinated person is most often more mild thanks to protection from the vaccine.

Wearing masks to reduce the spread and getting vaccinated remain the best ways to protect ourselves from any of the variants for now. As the number of vaccinated people increases, there is less opportunity for the virus to spread.

Cook County Health Vaccination Locations

As the pandemic continues and new variants of COVID-19 emerge, it is more important than ever to get vaccinated.

Getting vaccinated protects not just ourselves, but those around us, including people who cannot be vaccinated.

The vaccines are safe and effective in preventing infection, serious disease, hospitalization and death. The Pfizer vaccine recently received full approval from the FDA, reinforcing that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe to use.

All Cook County Health locations are accepting walk-ins for getting the vaccine. To learn about hours and find a location nearest you, visit or the Cook County Department of Public Health's website.

Cook County Launches Next Phase of Vaccine Public Education Campaign

When the COVID-19 vaccines became available earlier this year, Cook County launched an awareness and education campaign, My Shot Cook County, to encourage all residents to get vaccinated. Efforts included a multi-language media campaign to expand outreach, education and overall messaging to address vaccine hesitancy. In all, the My Shot Cook County campaign has garnered 70+ million impressions.

The campaign was initially geared toward local adults, age 18-65+ with a focus on minority communities and those defined as priorities by the CCDPH Social Vulnerability Index and CountyCare Medicaid historic zip codes. The first creative themes featured real Cook County residents sharing their reason for getting vaccinated in ads on digital platforms, out-of-home outlets (billboards, bus shelters etc.) and on the campaign website,

A new set of ads is currently in market centering around the notion that “Life Is Better Vaxxed” and targets the 18–34-year-old demographic, which continues to have the lowest rates of vaccine uptake. These ads are particularly focused in priority communities in the west and south suburbs and include radio, out-of-home, and digital elements. Clickhere to read a story from the Associated Press highlighting the My Shot Cook County campaign’s innovative use of social media influencers, among other tactics.

We are excited to say that, thanks to additional federal funding, we have been able to develop and launch our first broadcast television and streaming advertisements to encourage people to get vaccinated. The theme is “Trust Us”, highlighting the trust patients have in their Cook County Health providers. The compelling and multilingual commercials, which focus on CCH physicians, put trusted doctors front-and-center to ask the public to get vaccinated.

Look for the commercials across tv channels and streaming platforms including ABC, NBC, CBS, WGN, FOX, ME-TV, Univision, Telemundo, Hulu, Canela TV, Crossings TV, Polvision and YouTube. We’ve launched two versions of the ad, one in English, which you can see here, and another multilingual ad, which you can view here.

Please feel free to share these spots or any other My Shot Cook County creative available online with your networks to encourage others to get vaccinated. The vaccines provide us our best shot at moving through this pandemic.

"Destination: Vaccination" Provides Free Rides to Vaccination Sites

The Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH) launched its “Destination: Vaccination” program, which will provide free rides to many vaccination locations throughout suburban Cook County.

The program will enable individuals with limited mobility or transportation issues to easily get vaccinated, removing a key barrier for many residents.

“Destination: Vaccination” is a partnership between CCDPH, Kaizen Health, and several Community Based Organizations (CBOs), to provide transportation for residents who need assistance getting to nearby vaccination clinics.

Residents who need a ride to a vaccination location can call 833-308-1988 to schedule a ride. The program is open to suburban Cook County residents, as well as Chicago residents who wish to utilize a Cook County Health location within the city.

The program has vehicles to accommodate most residents, including those in wheelchairs or those who require child seats. Though advanced scheduling is preferred, residents can call for a ride and one should arrive between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on time of day and fleet availability. This service is provided at no cost.

A Conversation with Hispanics, Latinos and Latinas in Medicine

As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, Cook County Health will be hosting a virtual event on Thursday, October 14 at 6 pm for a “Conversation with Hispanics, Latinos and Latinas in Medicine.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Cook County Health leaders will discuss the historic role that Hispanics and Latino/as have played in medicine, especially in Cook County, as well as touch on the topics that are of most concern for the community, including COVID-19 and mental health.

The virtual event will be live-streamed on our Facebook page.

Cook County Health Leadership Updates

Cook County Health Board of Directors Appoints New Leaders, Welcomes New Member

The CCH Board of Directors voted to appoint two new leaders at its annual meeting on July 30. Lyndon A. Taylor, Partner in Charge – Chicago at Heidrick & Struggles, Inc., was appointed Chair and Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer was appointed Vice Chair. These leadership terms will last one year. The Board also welcomed a new member, Dr. Karen E. Kim, Professor of Medicine, Vice Provost for Research at the University of Chicago and Associate Director of the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center, who is serving a three-year term.

Mr. Taylor leads Heidrick & Struggles’ North American CEO & Board of Directors Practice as well as the firm’s global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Practice across executive search and consulting. He works with both privately-held and publicly-traded clients on executive leadership and board director search and succession engagements. He also advises organizations across sectors on diversity and inclusion strategies, particularly talent management and succession. Mr. Taylor is a member of the Executive Leadership Council (ELC) and serves on the Forums Committee of the Economic Club of Chicago. He also recently served as a director of the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the CFA Society Chicago. Mr. Taylor earned an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth Graduate School of Business, and both a BA in history, with honors, and a BS in ethnic studies from Southern Methodist University.

Commissioner Deer joined the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 2017 and the Cook County Health Board of Directors in 2018. He is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Clinically Certified Forensic Counselor, and a Certified Corrective Thinking Therapist. Commissioner Deer serves on several not-for-profit and community boards including Strategic Human Services and North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council which he co-founded. He was also recently appointed to the advisory board of the National Institutes of Health. He was also appointed to the Illinois Department of Human Services Domestic Violence Advisory Council and is Vice President of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Commissioner Deer is a graduate of Jackson State University, where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Elementary/Special Education and the Master of Science in Rehabilitation Psychology. He later went on to earn his Ph.D. in Christian Psychology.

Dr. Kim is a Professor of Medicine, Vice Provost for Research at the University of Chicago and Associate Director of the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr Kim is the founder and director of the University of Chicago Center for Asian Health Equity, a national platform for advancing the health of Asian and African immigrant communities through community-engaged health research, training and policy strategies. The overarching focus of Dr. Kim’s research is on generating evidence to reduce health disparities among racial and ethnic minority populations by utilizing community-engaged health services research methods and accounting for the impact of social determinants on health. Dr. Kim serves as the principal investigator on numerous federal grants to address cancer control among racial and ethnic minority communities and the nuanced and complex factors influencing disparities among these underserved populations.

Cook County Health Names New Executive Leaders

?Recently, Cook County Health has welcomed several new executives, representing the first C-suite appointments under the leadership of CCH CEO Israel Rocha Jr.

“I am pleased to welcome these new leaders to Cook County Health,” said Mr. Rocha. “We will be working together to further the health system’s storied, 185-year-old mission to care for all while modernizing our operations to thrive in today’s health care landscape.”

Valarie Amos, Chief Human Resource Officer: Ms. Amos began her career as a nurse and brings to CCH more than 16 years of human resource leadership experience. In her role, Ms. Amos oversees all functional areas within human resources, and is responsible for strategic planning and the delivery of effective human resources services for all CCH affiliates. Prior to joining CCH, she served as the Director of Compensation, HRIS and Talent Acquisition at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. Ms. Amos holds a bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Mississippi Medical Center and a master’s of science in nursing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is also a Certified Professional in Human Resources and a Lean Human Capital Recruiter Academy Certified Recruiter.

Pamela Cassara, Chief Financial Officer: As the CFO, Ms. Cassara is the health system’s financial leader, responsible for all financial and accounting oversight. This includes revenue cycle, reimbursement financial reporting, operational reporting and planning for the financial needs of the health system. Most recently, Ms. Cassara was the Market CFO for the northern Indiana division of Franciscan Health. Prior to that, she held numerous other healthcare CFO roles, including MetroSouth Medical Center, DeKalb Health and the Lutheran Health Network, bringing more than 35 years of experience to Cook County Health. Ms. Cassara holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Indiana University and is a certified public accountant. She is a member of the American Institute of CPAs, the Indiana CPA Society and the Healthcare Financial Management Association.

Andrea Gibson, Chief Strategy Officer: Ms. Gibson previously served as CCH’s Interim Chief Business Officer (CBO). As Interim CBO, Ms. Gibson oversaw the health system’s finance departments, including budget, accounts payable, payroll, patient financial services, managed care, accounting and grants. In her new role, she is responsible for organizational growth, business development, affiliated strategies and for implementing strategic initiatives consistent with CCH’s mission. She first joined CCH in 2015 as Director of Project Management and Operational Excellence. Previously, she served as Budget Director for Cook County and Deputy Budget Director for the City of Chicago. In all, Ms. Gibson has more than 26 years of experience in leading governmental entities’ fiscal responsibility and transparency initiatives. Ms. Gibson has a bachelor’s degree in political science and environmental studies from Macalester College, as well as master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago.

Curtis Haley, Chief Revenue Officer: Mr. Haley has more than 12 years of health care operational and financial leadership experience in revenue cycle. Mr. Haley is focused on providing strategic direction, planning and development of revenue cycle management to ensure Cook County Health maximizes revenue potential. Most recently, Mr. Haley served as the Vice President of Revenue Cycle Operations for AMITA Presence Health with $4 billion in revenue. Previously, he worked as the System Director of Revenue for Sinai Health. Mr. Haley has also worked at MetroSouth Medical Center, Saint Elizabeth Medical Center and Kishwaukee Health. Mr. Haley holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and insurance from Illinois State University and a Master of Business Administration in health care administration from Lewis University.

Cook County Health, Elected Officials Join Together to Discuss Health Care Workers and Mental Health

In August, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky were joined by Cook County officials to discuss funding for health care worker mental health programs.

Congress recently secured $103 million in funding in President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan to establish health care worker mental health support and training programs. Cook County Health’s Dr. Sharon Welbel spoke about how difficult it has been working on the frontlines of the pandemic while encouraging everyone who is unvaccinated to please get vaccinated. Sharon Hollivay-Wheeler, an Intensive Care Unit nurse who has worked at Stroger Hospital for nearly 30 years, also spoke about her experience caring for patients with COVID-19.

Cook County Health Awards and Recognitions

John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital Recognized by U.S. News & World Report

Cook County Health is proud to announce that John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital was recently recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a high-performing organization for heart attack and heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia.

U.S. News & World Report annually releases rankings for organizations based on several factors, including outcomes, patient safety, nurse staffing and more. Hospitals are also rated for their performance in treating more commonly occurring conditions and medical procedures.

High-performing organizations rank within the top 10 percent nationally of a given specialty. Hospitals that are high-performing are considered significantly better than the national average.

“Cook County Health is honored for John H. Stroger, Jr., Hospital to be recognized by U.S. News & World Report,” said Israel Rocha, CEO of Cook County Health. “This is acknowledgement, particularly in the midst of a pandemic, reflects the hard work and dedication of our employees and reaffirms our commitment to the historic mission of this organization.”

Cook County Health Recognized by the American Heart Association with Gold and Gold-Plus Awards for Severe Heart Attack and Heart Failure Care

Cook County Health received two major awards from the American Heart Association – the Mission: Lifeline® STEMI Receiving Center Gold Award and the Get with The Guidelines® Heart Failure Gold-Plus Award with Target Type 2 Diabetes Honor Roll. Both awards signify the health system’s efficient and effective high quality of care for both heart attack and heart failure patients.

Each year, more than 250,000 people experience a ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), the deadliest type of heart attack, caused by a blockage of blood flow to the heart that requires timely treatment. To prevent death, it is critical to restore blood flow as quickly as possible, either by mechanically opening the blocked vessel or by providing clot-busting medication.

The American Heart Association’s Missing Lifeline program’s goal is to reduce system barriers to prompt treatment for heart attacks following protocols from the most recent evidence-based treatment guidelines.

The second award is the Get with The Guidelines Heart Failure initiative, which recognizes a hospital’s commitment to ensuring heart failure patients receive the most appropriate treatment according to nationally recognized, research-based guidelines found in the latest scientific evidence.

The goal is speeding recovery and reducing hospital readmissions for heart failure patients. To be awarded with the additional Type 2 Diabetes Honor Roll, Cook County Health had to meet specific quality measures for 12 consecutive months.

Dr. Pilar Guerrero Selected as National Hispanic Medical Association’s 2021 Leadership Fellow

Cook County Health emergency medicine physician, Dr. Pilar Guerrero has been selected as one of the National Hispanic Medical Association’s 2021 Leadership Fellows, a program sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To receive this fellowship, you must be committed to improving the health of Hispanics and other underserved populations by supporting health professionals to be able to make a difference on the local and national levels of medicine and public health. Part of Dr. Guerrero’s focus will be on working on policies dealing with COVID-19 and on workforce diversity in medicine.

Dr. Guerrero has worked for Cook County Health for the last 19 years and is an Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Rush Medical College. She has focused her work on improving patient experience, resident education, medical Spanish, underrepresented minority recruitment and on public health initiatives affecting vulnerable populations, including those affected by COVID-19.

Cook County Officials, Housing Forward Discuss Early Success of Area Medical Respite Center

Cook County officials and staff from Housing Forward gathered on September 1 to discuss the opening and early success of a medical respite center in Oak Park.

Cook County Health opened the Medical Respite Center in December 2020 in partnership with Housing Forward. CountyCare, CCH’s health plan, and the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development have funded the facility.

As part of the program, suburban Cook County hospitals, Cook County Health facilities, including the Cook County Jail, can refer patients who are currently experiencing housing insecurity and are in need of a safe space to recover following a hospital stay.

“I am honored to be here today with our Cook County team and our partners at Housing Forward to recognize the important work we are doing together to confront housing insecurities across Cook County and provide care with dignity and an opportunity to our patients in need of ongoing recuperation,’ Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said.

Since its opening, the respite center has provided recuperative care for more than 70 patients, which includes small families, who would otherwise be discharged from the hospital to a shelter or an unstable living environment.

During their time at the respite center, individuals are connected with a medical team, including a social worker, who assists in ensuring patients receive transportation to scheduled medical appointments, are connected with needed social services, and are being monitored following their hospital stay. After their recovery, staff work to place them in more permanent housing.

“Cook County Health recognizes that to truly achieve health equity here in Cook County, we need to look at health care beyond treating people within the four walls of a clinic or hospital,” said Christine Haley, Cook Count Health housing director. “Through partnerships with community agencies like Housing Forward, we have created a safe and comforting space for our patients to recover from illness and create a pathway from homelessness to permanent housing.”

“The Medical Respite Center fills a critical gap bringing health care and housing together in one model, under one roof and stops the revolving door from emergency room to the streets and back again for recurring health care needs,” said Lynda Schueler, executive director, Housing Forward. “Those experiencing homelessness are much more likely to have pre-existing medical conditions, weakened immune systems, and acute infections due to delayed care and find themselves stuck in this revolving door. A discharge to a medical respite program is the safe and positive alternative to returning people back to the streets after a hospitalization.”

This respite center is just one of several initiatives that Cook County Health has been a part of to provide support to some of the most vulnerable patients in this area. CCH is invested in the Chicago & Cook County Flexible Housing Pool and supports policy initiatives to increase system wide capacity to provide more medical respite in Cook County.

Updates from Cook County

Cook County Launches Project Rainbow


In August, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was joined by community leaders, tech innovators, cultural institutions, museums, non-profits, and other partners to announce Project Rainbow: a new County-created, family-focused recovery initiative designed to address the education barriers and learning loss exacerbated by the pandemic.

Through this initiative, Cook County and its Project Rainbow partners will produce new video content, or repurpose existing informative and educational content, to be used by children and families. To broaden the scope of the initiative’s possibilities, future Cook County initiatives and programming involving children, families, or the arts will now be recognized by the County as Project Rainbow initiatives.

Cook County Health is proud to be a partner in this project. For more information, visit

President Toni Preckwinkle Announces $75M for Additional Round of Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance

Earlier this month, Cook County leaders announced another round of Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA 2) to support residents of suburban Cook County who are at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability due to the pandemic.

The program will dedicate an additional $75M, funded through the American Rescue Plan, to provide emergency rental assistance to both tenants and landlords, with prioritization preference given to suburban Cook County’s most vulnerable residents.

The program began accepting applications on October 4, 2021, and will remain open until Friday, October 29, 2021.

Designed to prevent and relieve housing instability for suburban Cook County renters and landlords who have experienced financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ERA 2 can help with up to 18 months of rental assistance. The program will cover past and current utility expenses, or other related housing expenses including relocation costs, security deposits, processing fees, and temporary housing solutions. In addition, under ERA 2, public housing residents and families with Housing Choice Vouchers are eligible to apply for assistance with their portion of rent.

To qualify for assistance under ERA 2, applicants must live in suburban Cook County and rent their place of residence. They must have a current or future obligation to pay rent, utilities, and/or other housing-related expenses and have a household annual income at or below established requirements (ranging from $52,200 for single-person households up to $98,450 for eight-person households). Additionally, applicants must have proof of financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic such as losing income, working fewer hours, being furloughed, needing to stay home because of risk of infection or to care for a child, or incurring significant costs during COVID-19.

Landlords and tenants in suburban Cook Country who wish to apply for ERA 2 funding can do so by visiting Cook County Covid-19 Emergency Rental Assistance. Applications will be accepted until October 29, 2021. For additional information, visit the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development or call (833) 221-9821. Help is available in multiple languages.

Cook County Health in the News

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