This past Friday, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson delivered on a promise made during the campaign's final days, letting Dr. Allison Arwady go from her post as Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH). Mayor Johnson's recent decision to dismiss Dr. Arwady has sparked concern and disappointment among members and partners of the HC3 Community.
Crain’s Chicago has speculated that Johnson's main issue with Arwady involved not reopening public mental health clinics closed in 2011 . Axios Chicago points out that others recall Johnson's strong ties to the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), which clashed with Dr. Arwady and Lightfoot during the 2022 work stoppage over COVID safety. When asked at a Monday press conference if it was connected to the CTU standoff, Johnson responded, "Transition is difficult for everyone. … I don't know how many times you're allowed to quote Tupac in a press conference, but you can't always go by the things that you hear. Real eyes, right, realize real lies."
Since Johnson took office on May 15, he had not installed a new public health leader and instead stressed wanting the department heads to stay on while the new administration got its bearings. The potential firing would always be challenging without succession planning. In conjunction with Dr. Arwady’s dismissal, CDPH's second-in-command, chief medical officer Jennifer Seo, also stepped down, leaving first deputy commissioner Fikirte Wagaw, who oversees CDPH finance and is not a clinician in charge in the interim.
The future of CDPH will certainly have some challenges to overcome in the next several months of transition. But the Johnson administration has explicitly outlined priorities around the health and well-being of Chicagoans with strategic plans to address mental health access, adequate health care funding, cultural sensitivity in services, coordination improvement, and equitable budget allocation. HC3 will continue to monitor the situation and remain supportive of opportunities for a pathway forward that is aligned with ensuring the health and wellness of Chicago’s future.
In the meantime, we applaud Dr. Arwady for her tremendous legacy as a champion for health equity and her steadfast leadership during the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes. She was a friend and partner to HC3 sharing her expertise on several programs*, and we are grateful for all that she has done for the city of Chicago during her tenure at the department.
*HC3 Programs featuring Dr. Arwady over the years:
Transformation Series: State of the State - Building a Healthier Chicago | 12.14.2020 |
Advancing Health Equity Series: Defining Health Equity | 4.14.2021 | Recap Here
International Women's Day Forum: A Celebration of Women in Health Care | 3.8.2022 |
CDPH Hosts Free Community Screening – Tipping the Pain Scale| 6.8.2022 | Press Release Here