One of the most unique urban developments in the United States is the Illinois Medical District (IMD). With 560 acres of medical research facilities, labs, a biotech business incubator, two universities, raw development areas and more than 40 healthcare related facilities, the IMD has one of the most diverse patient populations in the country and is a significant contributor to the region’s economic and physical health. Cynthia McCafferty, Hawthorne President, sat down with Dr. Suzet McKinney, Executive Director of the Illinois Medical District Commission, to discuss the evolving world of public health and what the future holds for the District.
Cynthia McCafferty: What makes IMD so successful and special?
Suzet McKinney: The IMD is a special-use zoning district in Chicago, less than three miles west of the loop. Our key mission areas are health care, health education, medical research and health care technology. I think one of the things that makes us so special is that despite all of the wonderful resources and assets that we have here in the IMD, particularly our four large anchor institutions, there is great opportunity for more. Unlike some of our counterparts across the country, we are not saturated in terms of offerings at the IMD, which makes us nimble and open to growth.
Cynthia McCafferty: You just recently released your master plan, what are some of the things that you are most excited for in this plan?
Suzet McKinney: I think overall what is most exciting about the master plan is that it represents a transformation of the medical district and a pathway to becoming an even bigger driver of economic growth in this city. Throughout the planning process, we conducted focus groups, community meetings and other stakeholder engagement meetings to determine what all of our various stakeholder groups thought could make the IMD a more amenable place to be. Through that process, we learned a lot and the plan is a representation of what we heard from our stakeholders as to what would make the IMD a better place to live, visit, work or seek healthcare. After going through the information that we gathered, we determined that there are currently very few places at the IMD that you can go for a coffee, a sandwich or a break. One of the new things that we are going to bring into the IMD as a result of the master planning process are restaurants, retail outlets, outdoor public gathering spaces, more walk-able sidewalks and more street lighting for pedestrian safety. In fact, we are hoping to break ground this summer on the first part of our project, a mixed use 9.5-acre development, known to most as the Gateway Development. In the next few years the IMD is going to transform so much.
Cynthia McCafferty: Can you touch on some of the expansion projects in Illinois public health that we can expect in the next few years?
Suzet McKinney: One of the things that I am very excited about that is taking place in the realm of public health in Illinois, is a very complex planning process for Crisis Standards of Care that the State of Illinois and City of Chicago embarked on a few years ago. I am really excited about it because as an emergency preparedness expert, I know how important it is for us to be prepared to face any type of natural disasters, ranging from catastrophic weather to the flu. We have taken a very bold step to develop these plans to protect the residents of Illinois and we are farther ahead in developing these plans than most other public health systems in the country. I am so proud that we are tackling these complex issues in Illinois.
Cynthia McCafferty: What do you think are the most effective ways to collaborate and conduct outreach with your community stakeholders?
Suzet McKinney: I think one of the key components to collaboration is simply knowing who your partners and your stakeholders are. It’s important to address how your stakeholders may be impacted by issues in both the positive and negative context. It’s important to fully understand your stakeholders needs and identify what you can do for your them, as well as what they can do for you. Collaborating also does not always mean that everyone will get everything they want, but the key is being transparent and honest with your partners as you are working through issues in an inclusive way.
Cynthia McCafferty: What do you think are the keys to emergency response and preparedness as they apply to public health?
Suzet McKinney: Continuous planning and development of operational capacity to manage all types of emergencies and disasters, especially new and emerging threats. Preparedness is not a destination, it is a journey so continuous planning is really key to handling issues and crises. Consider the range of disasters and the scale and scope at which they are occurring, particularly in the realm of natural hazards and emerging infectious diseases, for example the flooding that we recently saw in Texas or the Zika virus. In my mind, the message to emergency planners and response entities is that we can’t get complacent with the planning and preparedness that we’ve done. We need to constantly evaluate what we’ve done and implement measures to fill gaps identified through our evaluation processes. We have to be diligent in our preparedness efforts to ensure we protect ourselves against new and emerging disasters.