CHICAGO (CBS) — Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the state health department and the person who took center stage at press conferences during the COVID-19 pandemic discussing the dangers of the virus, is stepping down.
“It has been a great pleasure for me to serve the people of Illinois. I’m so lucky to have been able to bring some comfort to Illinoisans to quell some of the chaos and instill some calm,” Ezkie said. His last day will be March 14.
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“And (I’m) happy to have been a role model for young girls, girls of color, little black girls, that they can be leaders in any field. And I am proud to also show our young boys the future men of our society. Examples of female leaders I am proud to illustrate that empathy and strength can exist in the same body and in the same breath.
Speaking at Rush University Medical Center, Governor JB Pritzker thanked Dr. Ngozi Ezike for his tireless efforts over the past three years.
“Throughout the crisis. She stood by my side every step of the way. I don’t say lightly that she had one of the toughest jobs in the world. There is something particularly heroic about serving an extraordinary person who did not seek greatness, but found it anyway,” said Pritzker, who added that if he respected his decision to leave , he appreciated her devotion.
“It’s a change I hate to accept, but maybe she can finally get a good night’s sleep and some precious time with her husband and four kids. And boy, is it well deserved,” Pritzker said “She will go down in the history books of Illinois as a woman who changed our state for the better. She saved lives, thousands of lives.
“It has been the honor of a lifetime to lead #TeamIDPH. IDPH is made up of a team of unsung heroes who, by nature and definition, work behind the scenes and are committed to public health. And that commitment m gave strength every day.
The governor issued a proclamation naming March 1, 2022 #DrEzikeDay. Pritzker said Amaal Tokars, who serves as IDPH’s deputy director, will serve as the agency’s acting head. A nationwide search will be conducted for her replacement.
“Dr. Ngozi Ezike led the Illinois Department of Public Health for more than three years, his tenure defined not only by his ability to provide the latest expertise and data, but also his empathy and compassion – becoming a beacon of stability for millions during a time of uncertainty,” Pritzker said. “No number of sleepless nights and endless days could exhaust his commitment to thinking first and foremost about Illinois’ most vulnerable.”
“It has been a great honor to serve the people of Illinois as director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. Being the best doctor in the state during a global pandemic has been challenging to say the least, but it has been an incredible journey working with so many great public health professionals and leaders from all sectors,” said Dr Ngozi. Ezike. “I want to thank Governor Pritzker for the opportunity he has given me and for his dedication to the people of this great state. The dedicated men and women of IDPH will continue their mission-driven work to protect the health and safety of all Illinois residents.
Amaal VE Tokars, PhD., has served as Deputy Director of IDPH since June 2020 and is a Certified Public Health Administrator with a wide range of expertise. Prior to joining the administration, Tokars worked at the Kendall County Health Department and served as chair of the Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium. Previously, Tokars worked at the Association for Individual Development for fourteen years, where she managed over 30 health and social service sites and programs. Amaal earned her BSc from Lewis University and her MSc in Family Systems as well as a Ph.D. in Leadership and Politics from Northern Illinois University. She is also a graduate of the Navy Post Graduate School. Dr. Arti Barnes, MD, MPH, who joined IDPH in 2020, will continue to serve as Chief Medical Officer.
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Governor Pritzker’s full remarks congratulating Dr. Ezike, as prepared for delivery, can be found below.
For more than three years, Dr. Ngozi Ezike led the Illinois Department of Public Health. With her whole being, she dedicated every day – and I mean EVERY day – to the agency’s mission to protect the health and well-being of the people of Illinois. For much of the past two years, she’s also dedicated herself every night.
Even with this unprecedented internal workload, Dr. Ezike has prioritized joining me at over 160 COVID press conferences, providing not only the most up-to-date expertise and data, but also his empathy and compassion – becoming a beacon of stability for millions during a time of enormous uncertainty. And she did it in English and Spanish. She has an unwavering faith in God and she leaned on her faith to give her the strength to care for the world.
I saw Dr. Ezike mourn the loss of each of the 32,000 Illinois who have died from COVID-19. This pandemic is a collective trauma that has, for many, numbed their ability to deal with death on a large scale. Not Dr. Ezike. No number of sleepless nights and endless days could exhaust his commitment to putting Illinois’ most vulnerable first and foremost.
I ran for election. Dr. Ezike did not. But throughout this crisis, she has been by my side every step of the way. I don’t put it lightly when I say she had one of the toughest jobs in the world. There is something particularly heroic about serving an extraordinary individual who did not seek greatness but found it anyway.
Dr. Ezike’s last day as head of our public health department will be March 14. It’s a change I hate to accept, but maybe she can finally get a good night’s sleep and some precious time with her husband and their four children. It’s well deserved.
I have the utmost confidence that Dr. Ezike’s next journey will also bring more good to the world – as has been the hallmark of every step of his career. She will go down in the Illinois history books as a woman who changed our state for the better. She saved lives, thousands of lives.
On this note, I have issued a proclamation declaring that today, Tuesday, March 1, will be Dr. Ezike’s Day in the State of Illinois. I ask all of our residents to take a moment today or any day in the future to thank her for her unprecedented public service in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
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Dr. Ezike has big shoes to fill, and I am happy to announce that one of his senior deputies – Amaal Tokaars, who has joined us during COVID-19 updates in the past – will lead IDPH in interim as we search for a permanent successor. Amaal Tokaars was instrumental in Dr. Ezike’s leadership team, and the people of Illinois will be lucky to have her watching over them.