CHICAGO – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today appointed Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, an attending physician at Cook County Hospital and founder of a south side Chicago clinic that uses free haircuts and social services to draw African-American men in for medical care, as the new director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“Dr. Whitaker not only brings the necessary medical experience to the job, but also offers innovative approaches to dealing with the health needs of our citizens,” Blagojevich said. “There are many issues that public health confronts – bioterrorism, HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases, West Nile virus and health disparities to name just a few -- and I believe he offers a fresh perspective on how best to meet those challenges.”
“When he was considering his career in medicine, Dr. Whitaker decided to help serve those most in need of his services,” the governor said. “As it turned out, those with the greatest need were people in the neighborhoods where he grew up. That is the kind of commitment and compassion I wanted in my public health director.”
In 1999, Dr. Whitaker helped found Project Brotherhood: a Black Man’s Clinic, a once-a-week clinic for African-American men that is housed in the Woodlawn Adult Health Center, Chicago, and funded by the Cook County Bureau of Health Services. This innovative approach, which provides free haircuts to entice people to visit, grew out of the fact that African-American men die earlier from preventable diseases than other diseases and that men do not visit a doctor regularly.
Visitors to the clinic receive a holistic approach to medicine that addresses their physical as well as mental and spiritual needs. Dr. Whitaker said the idea was to have a place that men would be comfortable coming to receive medical assistance, but also be able to discuss issues like HIV prevention, using condoms, parenting skills and anger management. In 2000, the project was awarded the highest award by the National Association of Public Hospital and Health Systems.
Dr. Whitaker, 37, is the second African American to lead the 1,200-member department in its 125-year history. As director, he will be paid $127, 600.
He received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Grinnell College in 1987, his masters in public health from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1991 and his medical degree from the University of Chicago in 1993.
He lives on Chicago’s south side with his wife, Cheryl, and their son, Caleb.