We were dismayed to learn that Oak Park Public Health Director Theresa Chapple-McGruder’s request to continue her emergency powers was denied board discussion at the Nov. 15 Village Board of Trustees meeting — allowing this authority to sunset. To our knowledge, there was no public discussion where Dr. Chapple-McGruder could share her perspective with the community. Without a voted continuation, she will not have the authority to make immediate decisions without additional Oak Park board approval.
Oak Park is fortunate to have a state-certified public health department with a newly appointed leader committed to protecting our and her community. Chapple-McGruder, a nationally-recognized public health expert with a doctoral degree in epidemiology, has spent hours learning about the department’s programs and services, finding resources she can leverage, and working to build the infrastructure of the department that is currently not fully staffed, while monitoring COVID disease trends nationally and locally, and making tough decisions to protect our community.
She has also worked countless hours to help lead communicable disease mitigation efforts that help keep our schools and community as safe as possible. She partnered with District 97, and others so that all D97 kids were offered (and over 2,000 in just four days, received) first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Oak Park was among the first in the nation to have this free, local opportunity for its students. With all of this experience and these accomplishments, her voice deserves to be at the village board table. More than ever, we need to support the expertise of public health leaders who have been the brunt of people’s frustration with the pandemic.
Chapple-McGruder and our community deserve a public discussion about these issues. We hope the Oak Park community will support her and the Oak Park Department of Public Health, by living our values of transparency and open discussion, especially when it comes to our public health during a continued pandemic.
Christina R. Welter, DRPH, MPH
Elizabeth Jarpe-Ratner, PhD, MST, MPH
Gina Massuda-Barnett, MPH
Andrea Kovach, JD
Working moms of elementary and middle-school children, public health and health policy professionals, and Oak Park community members