Cook County Department of Public Health will be highlighting Everyday Heroes of the COVID-19 response on our website and social media. We want to recognize people on the front lines who are helping each other during these extremely difficult times.
Everyday Heroes are people living, working, and volunteering in suburban Cook County. They could be staff and volunteers at community-based or faith-based organizations, or employees at essential businesses, like a clerk at a grocery store. They could also be first responders, healthcare, or public health workers living or working in suburban Cook County.
Hero of the Week
Deborah Boyd balances contact tracing for both COVID-19 and HIV clients
Deborah Boyd’s skills and experience with the health department’s HIV program prepared her well for her COVID-19 duties. As a Senior Epidemiologist, Deborah links newly diagnosed HIV patients to care and engages in harm and risk reduction with those clients. She also conducts partner notifications.
Now Deborah’s main role is contract tracing for COVID-19. Contact tracing helps slow the spread of communicable diseases from person to person. Contact tracing is something that health departments have done for a long time. Diseases such as measles, Eloba, sexually transmitted diseases, are also tracked by contact tracing.
How does case contacting for COVID-19 work? When a positive case of COVID-19 is reported to the state health department, Deborah tracks down the sick person. Sometimes she talks with their relatives if the person is too ill to talk or has died from the disease. She provides people who are sick with information about care, isolation, and the proper next steps. Deborah also asks who they have had close contact with. Deborah then tries to track down those contacts to notify them about the potential spread, ask about their symptoms, and discuss precautions.
Deborah attempts to contact 10-15 people per day on average, trying to gather as much information as possible to help them as well as the people they came in contact with. Along with almost 80 COVID-19 cases to investigate on any given day, Deborah also continues to her work with the STI/HIV program and the patients who need linkage to care and follow-up.
Deborah has been with Cook County Department of Public Health for 24 years and is happy to be a part of the team. There are definitely ups and downs to contract tracing though. “It’s inspiring to learn about a 90-year old female that recovered and walked out of the hospital,” says Deborah, “but you also hear heartbreaking stories of unintentional spread to vulnerable family members.”
It is also challenging to get in touch with people and try to speak to them. Once contact is made, some people initially are scared to talk because they might get themselves or others in trouble, but Deborah reassures them that will not happen. “I try and make people feel comfortable by asking them about their experience and how they are doing so they feel safe and are more willing to share,” says Deborah. She explains that when people understand that they are part of the solution and the questions are to help others, they try to be as helpful as possible and provide as much information as they can.
“Deborah is always thinking about her clients, first and foremost, and their communities,” says Demian Christiansen, Director of the Communicable Disease and Control Unit. Her supervisor, Tobi Velicia Johnson, agrees: “Deborah always thinks about her clients’ needs.
For Deborah, it’s all part of a day’s work. She finds inspiration in helping the community and working with community members.
Hero of the Week
Veronica Thompson’s caring approach touches everyone she knows
They call it something different, but everyone that you talk to about Veronica Thompson mentions her grit. Her son Anthony says that, “She doesn’t give up.” Her daughter Maya says that she “pushes through everything.” And her friend from church, Paula Tripp, talks about her perseverance.
Veronica’s currently a medical assistant at a clinic in Orland Park, but she’s going to school to follow her dream of becoming a nurse. When she’s not hanging out with her kids, working, or at church, she’s studying or going to class. When Veronica had some back pain last year, Paula says, she kept going until it was almost physically impossible to continue.
Veronica’s also empathetic and cares deeply about people. She goes out of her way to help people, and shops for groceries for her elderly neighbors. Maya says that she’s very gentle with her patients.
Taking care of patients has been drastically different with COVID-19. When Veronica helps patient in person, she can give them a hug or look them in the eye to reassure them. COVID-19 has made all of that more difficult. Veronica’s been pitching in at work. She’s working at the testing site at work every other week.
She also has many other wonderful traits. Anthony says that she’s funny. Paula mentions her humility. And Maya mentions her ability to stay calm. Maya respects her mom for being able to do so much and still be there for her kids.
How does she do it? Veronica says that her faith is her foundation. Paula says that, “Her love for God shines through in everything that she does.” Veronica is also inspired by her mom, and to be a role model for her “two little ones”, although she realizes that her almost high schooler and almost college student aren’t so little anymore.
“She’s always been an Everyday Hero,” says Paula, “and even more so at this time”
Hero of the Week
Angela Tillis puts a smile on people’s face, even over the phone
Here at the health department, many staff have taken on duties that are very different from our everyday work. Our Everyday Hero this week is Angela Tillis, who responds to voicemails that Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH) receives from the COVID-19 hotline. Angela is usually a vision and hearing technician for the CCDPH. In normal times, she spends her workday visiting daycares, preschools, and elementary schools to screen young children for vision and hearing issues.
One critical part of CCPDH’s COVID-19 response has been establishing a hotline for community members to ask for COVID-19 information. When the hotline started, CCPDH was receiving over 100 calls a day, and Angela and a colleague would come to work on Mondays with over 50 voicemails waiting for them. People calling the hotline have questions on a wide range of topics, including where to get tested, where to file complaints about employers not adhering to social distancing guidelines, and how the virus is transmitted. A few callers just wanted to hear a friendly voice.
Community members are often pleasantly surprised to receive a return call. Angela, has been told, “I didn’t think I would get a call back!” or “Thank you for returning my message!” many times.
Angela says she connects easily with people, especially older adults. “They just feel comfortable with me, even over the phone.” Angela mentioned that a community member that called the hotline gave her the nickname ‘Angie’, because they felt an instant connection!
Angela has been willing to lend a hand wherever help is needed, and always with an upbeat attitude. She likes to stay busy. When she’s not returning calls, she also assists with COVID-related data entry. “Angela has gone above and beyond with the work and has kept a great attitude from the start,” says Regional Health Officer Dedra Ries, who oversees the hotline. “In these stressful times she has really stepped up to the plate.”
Angela has been with CCDPH since 2015. Before she started working at the health department, she worked in customer service for 20 years. “I smile while I am on the phone,” says Angela, “because people can feel that positive energy when you are speaking.”
To connect with COVID-19 operator, please call 708-633-3319. The hotline is open Mondays through Fridays from 9am to 4pm. If you call after hours or on the weekends, you can leave a voicemail and Angela or someone else will call you back.
Hero of the Week
Gloria Ellis brightens the lives of older adults
COVID-19 has touched every part of our lives, but especially celebrations like birthdays, family reunions, and anniversaries. This week’s hero, Gloria Ellis, made sure that her neighbors, Phyllis and Thomas Pelt, still had a memorable celebration.
Thomas Pelt was celebrating his 76th birthday. However, like many others they are struggling to comply with the shelter in place recommendations. Since the start of COVID-19, Gloria has been checking in with the Pelts regularly by text or phone. On April 16th she learned from Mrs. Pelt that Thomas’ birthday would be celebrated with a candle stuck in an apple. Gloria didn’t say a word, but a few hours later Gloria had dropped off a birthday cake and a beautiful card for the celebration. This was a surprise, sweet gesture, and one that inspired Phyllis to nominate Gloria as an Everyday Hero. “My husband loves cake and this cake just made his day,” said Mrs.Pelt. “We are blessed that Gloria freely looks out for us.”
Gloria is like many people who take care of family, friends and neighbors. She is involved in home schooling with her son Lionel. Gloria is a 30-year veteran of the Cook County Sheriff’s office. And since the COVID-19 Stay-At-Home Order started in March, she has not missed a day of work.
Gloria is sensitive to the needs of others, especially after attending to her mom’s daily needs before her mom made her transition last year. Gloria believes in God and is thankful that the Lord keeps blessing her and giving her the strength to “keep on keeping on” and to take it one day and at a time.
Hero of the Week
Sue Hecht ensures hospitals have critical equipment and supplies
Some heroes have been preparing for this pandemic for decades. Sue Hecht has been responding to COVID-19 almost non-stop since January, but she’s served in emergency planning roles at Advocate Christ Medical Center (ACMC) for over 25 years.
As the Region 7 Regional Health Care Coalition (RHCC) Disaster Coordinator, Sue has convened 12 regional hospitals to plan together. Since 2002, hospitals started working together so that they wouldn’t have to compete for resources during surges and emergencies.
Sue wears multiple hats. She also co-chairs the Advocate Aurora Emergency Preparedness Committee. At ACMC, Sue’s responsibility is to make sure everyone has what they need. This includes physicians and nurses, but also the staff preparing meals, building staff ensuring that there’s negative pressure in hospital rooms with COVID-19 patients, and the environmental services staff that are cleaning and disinfecting rooms.
The relationships she’s built over time – the ones that mean that everyone can call each other by their first name – are essential. “I’m like a cruise director,” Sue said jokingly.
Ann Faragoi, a close colleague at ACMC, says that this is Sue’s passion, “She works tirelessly to help patients, healthcare workers, EMS providers, and other health care facilities in the region.”
Sue brought together RHCC representatives from Regions 7, 8, 9 and 10 to unpack and distribute PPE supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile. Now, they meet regularly through virtual meetings to support one another and make sure each hospital has the necessary equipment and supplies.
“No one can do this alone,” Sue said. Thanks to Sue’s efforts, no one in Region 7 or ACMC has to.
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