Healthy Illinois 2028 plans to address chronic disease, maternal health, and racism


Maddie McCarthy


The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) recently released its State Health Assessment (SHA) and State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) as required by law, which combine to form the Healthy Illinois 2028 initiative.

IDPH used the SHA to evaluate the program’s overall issues and successes after the completion of Healthy Illinois 2021. The SHA influenced the objectives and goals in the SHIP.

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The five priorities of Healthy Illinois 2028 are:

  • Chronic disease
  • COVID-19 and emerging diseases
  • Maternal and infant health
  • Mental health and substance use disorder 
  • Racism as a public health crisis

Aiming to address those five priorities, there are also five cross-cutting issues the plan focuses on, including access to healthcare and wraparound services, physical and built environment, public health system infrastructure, racial equity, and social and structural determinants. 

IDPH Director Sameer Vohra, MD, JD, MA, told State of Reform that collaboration was and will continue to be a vital aspect of the success of the plan.

“We knew from the outset that there would be important critical inside state government partners: the Department of Human Services, Healthcare and Family Services, the Department of Insurance, the Department of Corrections, (and the) Department on Aging,” Vohra said. “And those are only a few of the small groups, because we know that health really impacts all policies and is for all policies.”

Both the SHA and SHIP identify collaborators and partners directly involved with developing the two documents.

Along with collaboration within state departments, Vohra also emphasized the importance of community engagement and adaptability with the plan. He said this plan is not as prescriptive as others because stakeholders anticipate the plan to change as partnerships grow and things change.

“We wanted the heart of this plan to be one that was based on community-led, community-built solutions … We wanted an approach where we were constantly engaging with those community-based organizations [and] our elected officials to make sure we create these ultimate strategies, programs, and policies that are built for this moment in time that are going to create the biggest and most meaningful and sustainable impact.”

— Vohra

The goal is to have the public involved with the plan as much as possible. IDPH held three virtual hearings between Nov. 28 and Nov. 30 in which staff encouraged the public to comment on both the SHA and SHIP.

Vohra discussed the challenges facing the plan as well.

“The reality of the SHIP is that we are trying to move forward big, aspirational ideas of where we want the state to be in five years,” Vohra said.

One of those aspirational ideas is equity. He said the department, based on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s leadership, promotes equity and health equity throughout Illinois.

“Taking the right and impactful steps to operationalize that health equity will take time, deliberate effort, and also a culture of understanding and learning, knowing that when we go for big aspirational ideas it’s always and often a work in progress to get to our ultimate goal,” Vohra said.

As Illinois is a large and diverse state, Vohra said it is important to come up with solutions that keep its diversity in mind, while also staying within the guidelines of state policy.

Healthy Illinois 2021 faced its own difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Vohra was a collaborator and member of the plan’s advisory committee, so he was able to speak to some of the successes and challenges of it.

“We’re very happy and pleased with the progress we’ve made towards the goals of Healthy Illinois 2021,” Vohra said. “Especially with that disruptive impact of the pandemic. More than half of our original goals are being met.”

Vohra listed some of Healthy Illinois 2021’s successes, including the implementation of the 988 crisis line, maternal and child health data collection improvements, increased coverage for diabetes prevention, increased mental health first aid training, and IDPH’s emergence as a licensure regulatory agency for community health workers.

The Healthy Illinois 2021 priorities were behavioral health, chronic disease, and maternal and child health. 

Vohra believes Healthy Illinois 2028’s biggest challenge—moving forward with big, aspirational goals—is also the most exciting aspect of the plan.

“We may have certain diseases, but none of us are defined by our diseases. We are individual, unique residents across the state. And […] tackling big, complicated social issues like racism as a public health crisis, really excites me about this plan.”

— Vohra

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