LaShawndra Vernon, a nonprofit management professional, called on the Common Council to confirm Dr. Jeanette Kowalik as Milwaukee health commissioner.
Health and wellness in Milwaukee has been in a state of emergency for over a decade. Although philanthropy targeted resources to address the many gaps in health equity, we still haven’t significantly moved the needle for families living in Milwaukee. We’ve worked together across sectors and achieved numerous milestones, but we’re not even close to closing the gap in health outcomes.
In order to resolve the health disparities in Milwaukee, we need leadership that understands health across socio-cultural backgrounds and leads with an equity lens. We’ve been fortunate to have the leadership of Dr. Patricia McManus during this transition of leadership at the health department. I look forward to the transition to another highly qualified leader, Dr. Jeanette Kowalik to lead the Milwaukee Health Department. She is the right choice to serve as the health commissioner of Milwaukee. Confirming Dr. Kowalik is a step in the right direction towards improving the health and wellness of our community.
Dr. Kowalik is from Milwaukee and her return to Milwaukee exemplifies her intent to restore outcomes-driven health practices at home. She started her career as an undergraduate intern at the City of Milwaukee Health Department focused on community-level interventions to decrease infant mortality disparities among African American & Latinx adolescents. Since then, Dr. Kowalik has served as the associate director of the Women’s and Infant Health unit to meet the needs of Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (AMCHP) members and partners. In her role she is responsible for the Collaborative Innovation and Improvement Network (CoIIN), focused on prematurity and infant mortality prevention. We need a leader that possesses a deep understanding of the necessary actions to prevent prematurity and ensure that more babies are able to blow out their first candle in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee’s need for new leadership is urgent. Our communities are plagued with violence and it is adversely impacting families. Lack of opportunities for sustainable income is feeding toxic stress, making it more difficult for people to thrive. As long as our black and brown babies are four times more likely to die in their first year in Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Health Department should be our highest priority. Poor health outcomes for black and brown families are symptomatic of an unhealthy environment that re-victimizes us daily. We must treat the neglect of our communities like the epidemic it is. We expect our leadership to support health and wellness.
Dr. Kowalik’s professional experience in public health, personal values and demonstrated commitment to Milwaukee will contribute to an accountable, outcomes-driven health department. Under her leadership, MHD programs and services will once again emphasize equity and address the social determinants of health that lead to the startling racial and socioeconomic disparities that impact so many of us.
We strongly urge the members of the Common Council to confirm Dr. Kowalik as our new Health Commissioner. But no one person can do it alone. We need Dr. McManus to remain engaged in the onboarding process to ensure the best health of the community. We urge everyone to get behind Dr. Kowalik in fighting for a healthier and more equitable Milwaukee.
Update: The Common Council has confirmed Dr. Kowalik’s appointment as Milwaukee Health Commissioner.