Meet Our 2023 Health & Medicine Award Winners - Health & Medicine Policy Research Group

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Meet Our 2023 Health & Medicine Award Winners

July 11, 2023

Health & Medicine is pleased to announce our 2023 award winners! These Chicago-area leaders exemplify the Health & Medicine mission to build power and momentum for social justice and health equity in Illinois.

Help us celebrate the public health champions in our community! Join us for our 2023 Health & Medicine Awards Gala on September 20 as we recognize these public health leaders.

Health Award

Nasir Zakaria, Rohingya Culture Center

Nasir Zakaria is a Rohingya refugee who fled from Burma to Bangladesh at the age of 14. In 2013, after traveling to Thailand and Malaysia, he resettled in Chicago with his wife, daughter, and grandfather. While learning English, Nasir got a job as a dishwasher at the Rivers Casino. He saw the need for a place for the Rohingya population to gather and receive services as there were no Rohingya people in Chicago before refugees began arriving in 2010. In 2016, he founded the Rohingya Culture Center, with help from the Zakat Foundation of America, to support his community, splitting his time between his dishwashing job and the Center. Nasir remains Executive Director for the Center, which has become not only a place for programs serving Rohingya and other refugees but a place that offers community-building activities.  

Nasir is a community leader for the Rohingya population and is known nationally and internationally throughout the Rohingya community for establishing the first-of-its-kind Rohingya Culture Center. He is highly respected for his integrity and dedication, always putting the needs of others before his own. He has a deep understanding of the culture and traditions of his people and uses this knowledge to create meaningful initiatives that strengthen the community. Nasir is a proud Rohingya American who is thankful to be welcomed into the United States and uses this opportunity to help others.

 Medicine Award

Jorelle Alexander, DMD, MPH, Cook County Health

Jorelle Alexander is an exceptional leader who prioritizes access to high-quality oral health care for everyone and strives to deliver exceptional oral healthcare to her patients. Throughout her career she has exceled at forging relationships and forming alliances, fostering partnerships and collaborations that drive progress and ensure access to care.

Jorelle’s academic journey began with a bachelor’s degree in child development and biology in 1996, followed by a Master of Public Health in 1999. She gained valuable experience teaching at St. Ailbe Catholic School and working for the American Academy of Pediatrics. However, she recognized that she could make a more substantial positive difference in people’s lives by transitioning into clinical care. Driven by this realization, she pursued a DMD from the University of Louisville and completed her Graduate Practice Residency at Rush University and Medical Center. Over the next 15 years, her career soared to management positions, extending well beyond clinical care in underserved areas. She assumed leadership roles in large, federally qualified health centers and county government entities. 

Within a mere six months of joining an FQHC, Dr. Alexander’s exceptional abilities led to her promotion as the Director of Oral Health. She maintained this position as the FQHC expanded from a seven operatory clinic to a remarkable 14 operatories. Subsequently, she was appointed as the Dental Director of the Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center, overseeing five dental clinics and a dedicated team of 75 professionals. Today, Dr. Alexander holds the prestigious position of Chair of the Department of Oral Health for Cook County Health and Hospitals System. Her outstanding contributions revolve around spearheading the development and delivery of top-notch oral healthcare, implementing clinical and operational programs, and driving improvement initiatives. Most importantly, she remains committed to providing direct patient care, designing programs tailored to community needs, expanding access to care, and coordinating teams to deliver exceptional programs, services, and quality oral healthcare.

Dr. Alexander is an active member of the American Dental Association, the Chicago Dental Society, and the Illinois State Dental Society. Additionally, she proudly holds membership in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Her commitment to public service is exemplified through her role as a National Health Service Corps Scholar and her various leadership positions within the Kenwood Hyde Park Branch of the Chicago Dental Society, including the role of President.  

 Policy Award

 Katie Thiede, ICAN! (Illinois Contraceptive Access Now)

Katie Thiede is a tireless champion for health equity and access to high-quality reproductive health care. With 20 years of experience at the helm of social change organizations, she has earned a reputation as an influential leader, disruptor, and reproductive health policy expert with sharp business acumen and a strong track-record of leveraging public-private partnerships to accelerate impact.  

Katie has spent the last decade of her career in Chicago leading reproductive health and rights organizations. Her experience, relationships, and tenacity enable her to drive Illinois Contraceptive Access Now’s (ICAN!’s) ambitious agenda, pursue innovative and scalable solutions, build effective coalitions and partnerships, and mobilize resources to advance ICAN!’s mission and vision. Launched in January 2021, ICAN! is a statewide initiative aiming to de-silo, de-stigmatize, and normalize birth control as basic health care. It is the first contraceptive access initiative to focus specifically on optimizing and implementing progressive contraceptive care policies. The hallmark of ICAN!’s 2022 policy agenda was advancing a model Family Planning State Plan Amendment which expanded coverage eligibility for family planning and related services for 1.2 million Illinoisans. 

In her previous role as the CEO of Bright Pink—a national breast and ovarian cancer prevention organization—she led the effort to significantly scale the reach of innovative digital tools and programs, including Assess Your Risk, which helped over 1 million women assess their personal risk for breast and ovarian cancer. As the VP of Development for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, she tripled annual philanthropic revenue to north of $12 million and supported the organization’s most significant policy efforts of the past several years: removing Medicaid abortion coverage restrictions, increasing Medicaid coverage for the most effective birth control methods, protecting patients’ right to reproductive health information under the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, and requiring insurance coverage of up to 12 months of birth control without cost-sharing. Katie has also held leadership roles at the Chinook Fund, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and Rape Assistance and Awareness Program.  

An experienced public speaker and media spokesperson on the topic of women’s health, Katie has been featured in outlets such as the 2018 Women’s March Chicago, United States of Women, ABC7, CBSN, WBEZ, WCIU, tastytrade, and 23andMe’s SPIT Podcast. Katie earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is an active member of the Reproductive Health Advocates Coalition, Protect Our Care Illinois Coalition, and former Funding Exchange Board Member and Juno4Me Advisor. In 2022, Katie was recognized as an inaugural New Profit Health Equity Fellow. 

Research Award

Diana Lemos, PhD, MPH, American Medical Association

Diana Lemos is a passionate advocate for community well-being and social and racial justice, combining her background in community psychology and public health to drive positive change. As the Director of Evaluation and Learning at the American Medical Association Center for Health Equity, she dedicates her career to conducting impactful research and evaluation using participatory methodologies, empowering those most impacted by initiatives, and promoting health equity. 

Dr. Lemos has worked in nonprofit, health care, and foundation sectors to advance health equity research and programmatic initiatives domestically and in Southern Africa. Some of her previous institutions with strong emphasis on health equity and social justice include Hektoen Institute of Medicine at Stroger Hospital of Cook County, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, and the Obama Foundation. Dr. Lemos is a dedicated professional who believes in the power of collective action to create transformative change. Through her expertise, passions, and values, she strives to create a more equitable world for all. 

Dr. Lemos serves on the American Evaluation Association’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group focused on advancing equity in membership organizations. She works closely with programs and initiatives that seek to develop and foster the new generation of equity-minded evaluators. Dr. Lemos holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Master of Public Health from University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, and a PhD from DePaul University.   

Group Awards

 Acclivus, Inc.

Acclivus, Inc. is a community health organization focused on improving the health and well-being of Chicago’s most vulnerable populations. Using intentional social networks to serve individuals, primarily those from communities that are disproportionately impacted by compounding barriers to health and success, Acclivus provides resources and support to assist at-risk Chicago residents with personal and professional growth.

In collaboration with local stakeholders, Acclivus programs and services address trauma, decrease health disparities, reduce incarceration, enhance educational opportunities, and increase employment options for individuals, families, and their communities.

Acclivus is committed to supporting community health and well-being for Chicago area populations at risk for violence and other negative health outcomes. They aim for each person to thrive and reach their full human potential—regardless of their past misdeeds, disappointments, or challenge—as they overcome social challenges including chronic exposure to violence and trauma, poverty, a criminal background, disproportionately high rates of serious health conditions, and limited formal education.

Healthy Illinois Campaign

The Healthy Illinois Campaign was founded in 2014 with the goal of making quality, affordable health care coverage accessible to all people in Illinois, regardless of immigration status. Structured as a coalition of grassroots organizations, health care providers, and policy groups, Healthy Illinois uses community organizing and advocacy to fight for immigrant access to health care.  

The Healthy Illinois Campaign—which advocates for and is composed of immigrant communities—has worked to make the refrain that “health care is a human right” a reality in Illinois through precedent-setting state policy.  

In 2020, the campaign made national history in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic when its advocacy efforts led to the passage of the first Medicaid-like coverage for older adults in the nation. Health Benefits for Immigrant Seniors was launched in September 2020 to cover low-income Illinois residents ages 65+, regardless of immigration status. In 2021 and 2022, Healthy Illinois successfully fought for and won the expansion of Medicaid-like coverage to people ages 42+, regardless of immigration status, making Illinois the first state in the nation to cover immigrants 42 and older. Because of this work, over 63,000 low-income Illinois residents have gotten access to life-changing and life-saving health care, and many states are now in the process of following Illinois’ lead including California, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. 

In 2023 and beyond, Healthy Illinois continues to advocate for comprehensive coverage for all. In the coming year, the campaign will continue working to expand coverage to those still excluded, primarily undocumented individuals ages 19-41, and those in need of long-term care and home and community-based services. Additionally, Healthy Illinois will continue working to ensure the full implementation of current coverage options for Illinois immigrants ages 42+. 

Emerging Leader Awards 

Bonnie Ewald, Rush University Medical Center

Bonnie Ewald is a dedicated public service professional working at the intersection of health care and social service delivery, health policy, research, and education to improve our problematic health care system, and ultimately, improve health and quality of life for marginalized communities.  

In her work as a manager in the Social Work and Community Health department at Rush University Medical Center, Bonnie collaborates with clinical leaders to develop, evaluate, and sustain initiatives provided by social workers, community health workers, and AmeriCorps members that improve quality of care and life. She also serves as the Managing Director of the Center for Health and Social Care Integration (CHaSCI), a training and policy center that works in collaboration with local and national partners. Through her work at CHaSCI, Bonnie develops and implements education and training initiatives to spread best practices in care management and social care, advocates for workforce investments, and promotes policy changes to prevent and address health-related social needs. Via CHaSCI’s Coalition for Social Work and Health, she manages a national campaign for the value of social work in improving the nation’s health. Her work at Rush also involves the Center for Excellence in Aging bimonthly American Society on Aging Chicagoland Roundtable. 

In addition to these roles, Bonnie serves as a member on committees for the National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs, the American Society on Aging, West Side United, and Health & Medicine’s Center for Long-Term Care Reform and Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellowship. Her academic work includes serving as assistant professor and adjunct faculty member in Rush University’s Department of Social Work and Department of Health Systems Management, respectively, and teaching a graduate course in aging policy for the Department of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.  

Bonnie earned her Master of Public Policy from the Harris School at the University of Chicago in 2018 and has a post-graduate certificate in Sustainable Urban Design from Archeworks (2013), a Perinatal Educator Certificate from the Midwest Maternal Child Institute (2012), and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and geography from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2011). 

Ezekiel Richardson, MD, Emergency Medicine Physician 

Ezekiel Richardson is an emergency medicine physician in the city of Chicago, where he works with multiple organizations to prolong the lives of residents of underserved communities through medical care, organizing, and activism.  

He serves as medical liaison for the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization; Chicago community liaison for the national board of White Coats for Black Lives, a national physician activist organization opposing systemic racism; and sitting physician representative on Chicago’s Community Health Equity Coalition, a group of activists and community leaders that organize for community representation in health care. In these roles, Ezekiel works to bring community concerns and issues, like the recent attempted closure of the historic Mercy Hospital on Chicago’s South Side, to the attention of medical students and physicians to promote advocacy and responsiveness to the needs of the communities they serve.  

Ezekiel also works as a clinical educator and promotes antiracist and activist frameworks for physicians to better serve communities struggling against systemic racism. He has organized residents across multiple hospital systems within Chicago and has been a staunch advocate for the provision of reliable, quality health care for those who would be denied due to American systemic racism.