Toni Corona retires after 20 years as Madison County Health Department director

Toni Corona has taken vacations before in her nearly 20 years as director of the Madison County Health Department, but her time off last week was different.

She returned to the office on Monday knowing she only had three weeks left to work.

Corona, who has been with MCHD since its inception in 1996 and has served as its director since 2003, is retiring on June 30.

“It’s sinking right now, of course, but the health department is in a very good position,” said Corona, who was manager of environmental health services for MCHD before becoming its director. “The dedicated people here, from the Division Managers to the Coordinators to all the staff, do a terrific job.

“This job was easy for me thanks to the passion and professionalism of our staff. It’s time for me to do something different and I’m going to take some time off.

Corona said his decision to retire wasn’t all that long ago, even though it had been on his mind for a while.

“It was probably mid-May when I started thinking about it,” Corona said. “I wanted to assess and access where we are, and the state fiscal year starts July 1, when you start grant applications and do that stuff. The timing (to retire now) just seemed right.

Corona admits that the past two-plus years of the COVID-19 pandemic and the added stress that has been placed on public health professionals played a role in his decision to retire this summer.

“I had a 33-year career in this field, and I never imagined what it would be like,” Corona said of the fight against the pandemic. “We have 40 employees now, but at the height of the pandemic we had 70.

“The last two and a half years have been a blur, but we have been so successful in responding to the pandemic. We ran a mass vaccination clinic for several months and provided about 116,000 vaccines to people, not to mention all the contact tracing and consultation we did with long-term care facilities and hospitals. .

“I don’t want to indicate that COVID is over – it’s still here and we need people to be aware and stay up to date with their vaccinations. But relative to where we were, I think it’s in a good place.

While the pandemic brought longer hours and a heavier workload for Corona and her staff, it also reminded her why she chose to become a public health professional.

“I love public health,” Corona said. “My degree is in environmental health and part of that was an internship, but at that time there was no local health department in Madison County. a health service and it was operational in 1996.

“I was born and raised in Madison County, and I wanted to be part of it. It’s come full circle and a fantastic race. My career is truly my calling and being useful is very important to me.

Corona said his successor as head of the health department has yet to be named.

“It’s up to the county administration to decide, but they will appoint an interim manager internally to get things done. That should happen next week,” Corona said.

“I know the job has been posted, and they’re going to start a search for a director of public health. State law defines the minimum qualifications for the position and there is a process to ensure the individual has the correct public health experience and knowledge.

Originally from Alton, Corona graduated in 1985 from Marquette High School. She attended Illinois State University, where she earned a degree in environmental health.

Her first public health job was in LaSalle County and she also worked at the St. Clair County Health Department for several years.

“After the 1993 flood, I left St. Clair County and went to the Illinois Department of Public Health and did a lot of flood recovery work with wells and private sewage systems,” Corona said. “At that time, the Madison County Health Department was starting to form, and I left IDPH to come here.”

Corona quits her job with high hopes for the future of public health in Madison County.

“The mission of a local health department is to make sure people have what they need within a community health population,” Corona said. “We have environmental programs, but there is also the aspect of communicable diseases.

“We do a lot of vaccination and prevention programs such as cancer screenings. Our Community Health Plan was approved by County Council (Wednesday evening). Last month, we identified three health priorities for the next four years: mental health, addictions and access to care.

Corona’s plans for the future, after a few months of shutdown, are uncertain.

“I’m going to relax for a while, but I have to be useful,” Corona said. “I’m going to do something, but I don’t know what it will be yet. I am delighted with the opportunities and I appreciate what I have had here.

“Leaving here is a bit bittersweet. I like being part of something and knowing that we are doing good, but I also come away very confident in the future of the Ministry of Health. I know it’s in good hands and I know the staff are top notch.