IMRF Stories: Mark P.

75th Anniversary

As we celebrate our 75th anniversary, we also celebrate the workers who make IMRF possible. In this recurring feature, active members of IMRF tell us in their own words a little about how they serve their communities and the state of Illinois.

Interview: Mark P., Director of Community Health, St. Clair County

Mark became Director of Community Health for St. Clair County in June 1997. Previously, he worked overseas with the World Health Organization in Yugoslavia and Copenhagen and then at the state level at the Illinois Department of Public Health. His graduate degree is in health planning and epidemiology.

As the Director of Community Health, I oversee programs for adult health and school health, but I also interact with any and all health and human service organizations from schools to businesses to the faith community. Together we do an overall assessment of county health needs and priorities. Hospitals are very involved in that as well. Basically, we try to look at issues such as prevention, health promotion, and how we as community partners can work together to make St. Clair County and its 265,000 citizens healthier.

The favorite part of my role is to go out into the community and speak with school boards, businesses, chambers of commerce, faith organizations, and local government, and help them identify ways in which they can work together to create conditions in which people can be healthier. It’s a lot of influencing policy—helping them understand that if they make these kind of subtle changes in the way they, say, design their streets, they could create walkable communities or opportunities for people to have access to healthier, nutritious foods. That’s kind of the new age of public health—it’s not just about giving moms and babies shots, but it’s involving the transportation sector, and city design, and various changes that we can make in our workplaces and schools to help people be a little more proactive about their health.

We’ve created an alliance between all our hospitals and our schools, our businesses, and our faith communities through a campaign called “Get Up and Go.” It’s separate from local government, but it works closely with our health department and is run by its own volunteer board members that are represented from schools and churches and business and neighborhoods that are carrying that message. We’re planting seeds and training people to educate their own constituents and coworkers. That’s very important, because it develops local sustainability when the state budgets are in a bit of chaos.

Because I work for the government sector, what has really been fascinating is learning how people don’t always think like government workers do. If we can learn what their world is about, we can work with them and create a genuine sense of collective impact, so it’s not prescriptive but collaborative in nature. That’s the one thing I’ve valued most and have learned most about moving from a state position to a local position.