Transition at the Kendall Co. Health Department : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Transition at the Kendall Co. Health Department|
|New director emphasizes need to make clients feel comfortable|
|by Matt Schury|
Dr. Amaal Tokars took over as the Kendall County Health Department's executive director when Cheryl Johnson retired last month after 20 years as the head of the department.
Tokars sat down to talk about some of the things the department does and her vision as well as the growing need for services that has come about since she joined the health department in 2005.
Tokars was hired as Johnson's assistant knowing she was going to be her successor and said the job is what she anticipated.
"It doesn't feel very different to me," she said, adding that the challenges and opportunities that she dealt with before are still present.
She credits with Johnson and says she does miss working with her long-time colleague.
"Cheri (Johnson) was a great lady to work with I enjoyed working with her very much," she said. "The staff didn't experience anything different the day I took over because they already knew me," Tokars said.
For the most part she said the transition has been smooth and the mission of the Health Department remains the same: to serve the individuals and families of Kendall County.
"It's very important to us that people don't have to feel ashamed to come here. That they feel dignified to come here and that it was worth their while and not a drudgery," she said.
Tokars mentioned that she remains humble and recognizes the entire department serves the community.
"There is not one time that I drove up and said, 'Oh my goodness I'm the executive director of the health department.' That's not the way I think about it," she said. "That doesn't mean that I won't be the one named when there's mucky-muck going on."
She credited her staff with working as hard as she does.
"I work very hard, I've always had my nose to the grindstone and I'm sure I'll always be that way, I like working hard but it's not all about me," she said.
Tokars takes over the Health Department when resources are needed now more than ever. She says she realizes the need to be fiscally efficient.
"I am concerned with fiscal carefulness. Are we efficient with the limited resources we have?" she said. "But I am, at the very same time ... how are we the most effective in developing the quality of what we do as it touches the individuals that come in the door," she said.
are being addressed
Tokars notes that one bright spot is the greater awareness of poverty and the socioeconomic problems than when she came on board in seven years ago.
When Tokars started as Johnson's assistant, Kendall County was the fastest growing county in the United States. In the aftermath of the recession and economic downturn, Kendall County's foreclosure rate also rose.
In light of this, Tokars stresses that the Health Department holds to the World Health Organization's definition of public health, which is the complete physical and mental and social well-being of the individual
She adds that there is an understanding of what well-being looks like for the community and health care members.
"It's not merely the absence of disease and infirmity," she said.
For instance, a family could be living in an impoverished area and be healthy and have enough to eat but they are missing that other part
"Many people would say, 'So what's the problem? They've got food; they've got a house-what's the problem? But to live in the duress of dangerousness and worrying about the next month," she related.
They emphasize a holistic and not just physical health care and preventative measures going beyond physical and mental health issues.
"Social well-being is a reflection of healthy civil society," she said.
She points out the evolving loan fund the Health Department offers.
"It's the same idea when NGOs (non-governmental organization) go abroad they call it microcredit, it's really the same thing and so I think it's really exciting that we can do a little bit of that for our own community members here," she said. "We don't have to go to South Africa to do it, we are doing it right here in Kendall County."
People who have worked hard and done everything right are still struggling in the aftermath of the recession.
"I think when the downturn came I think people saw-oh, this could happen to the middle class," she said.
In a relatively wealthy area like Kendall County, poverty is something that can stay fairly well hidden but should not go ignored.
"Poverty is hidden behind a high median income here so we still have a relatively high median income," she said, adding that before the downturn there were not enough jobs to sustain the families that lived in this county.
Instead people went outside Kendall County to work, which is not unusual, or a bad thing, Tokars said.
"But it is a risk factor because what it means is, when times get tough, it will be even less sustainable to the families of this county despite that high median income," she said.
How do they find the Health Department? Tokars says it is largely word of mouth for many services but also they are out in the community taking about health and well-being.
"Every single citizen in this county can benefit from being proactive about their health and well being," she said.
Additionally the Health Department works with schools and churches and speaks at civic and governmental entities. Tokars adds that she wants the community to know about risk factors but also wants them to know they can get help discreetly and without a stigma.
"Many of our services do have income requirements but many do not have income requirements and we want people to be able to access those services," she said.
Tokars highlighted population based services like environmental health. For instance the health department works with restaurant managers on food safety, and offers information and help with radon protection.
"To able to touch people with that kind of diversity of work is such a privilege,"
As far as the future, she said that she would like to one day retire from the Health Department if she could.
"One should never say for sure or promise that but, I'm very happy here," she said adding that she is happy with the Board of Health and the staff at Health Department.
"What we want to do is grow our services and only grow what we need to in our staff to get those services out," Tokars said.