The former head of the state’s public health department will take the helm of Sinai Chicago, a safety net health system serving the South and West sides.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike will take the reins of Sinai on June 13, replacing the former president and CEO Karen Teitelbaum, who announced in September she would be stepping down. Ezike will be the first Black woman to lead Sinai Chicago, and was the first Black woman to lead the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“We at Sinai Chicago need to be creative and innovative to ensure everybody has access to the things they need to live their best life, no matter where they live,” Ezike said.
Ezike spearheaded the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic that disproportionately impacted low-income communities of color, including those served by Sinai.
“She is a strong, trusted and well-respected leader who has made a real difference in the lives of so many in the statewide response to the worst pandemic the world has seen in over a century,” said Sinai Chicago Board Chair Vincent Williams.
Sinai is the state’s largest private safety net health organization. The health system emphasizes access to medical care, as well as social determinants of wellness that cause Black and Brown communities in Chicago to face serious health disparities, and a high prevalence of chronic and preventable disease, Ezike said.
“We have to keep looking at what it is that impacts people’s health. … What happens in the walls of a hospital or rehab facility or a clinic, that’s just a small part of imparting health into a community,” Ezike said.
Social issues like a lack of quality and affordable housing, unemployment, street violence and a dearth of places where residents can purchase nutritious food are serious drivers of health inequality, Ezike said.
“Equally or more important are having housing, safe spaces, being free from violence, being able to have grocery stores with fresh produce. All of these things are also tantamount to good health,” Ezike said.
Sinai has a strong track record of addressing social determinants of health that will continue under her leadership, Ezike said. The hospital is a lead partner in the development of the Ogden Commons project in North Lawndale, a mixed-use outpatient health center that will inject $200 million into the local economy and create housing, retail space and restaurants on a formerly vacant patch of land.
The health system has also taken the lead in the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in West Side communities where people have a heightened risk of developing serious illness from coronavirus. The hospital hosted community vaccination clinics and outreach events to boost vaccine rates among communities that lagged behind city averages.
“I am ready to tackle issues of health equity and continue the work Sinai has been doing long before anyone heard of a COVID-19 pandemic,” Ezike said.