4/18/20 - A Message from Secretary Hou: Bright Spot & Press Conference Recap

Saturday, April 18th, 2020

Good morning, IDHS Staff:

The Choate Center located in Anna celebrated its 150th year anniversary this past October. Along with many others, I was able to join the celebration to remember and recognize the century and a half of services provided at Choate to people with mental illness and developmental disabilities.

The Choate Center initially opened in 1869, and the majority of occupied buildings were built between 1950 and 1965. The Center serves around 230 individuals on average and occupies more than 220 acres, using six buildings for individual care, treatment, and habilitation.

The Choate campus is home to several IDHS programs: a jointly-operated psychiatric facility/developmental center, a Family and Community Resource Center, a Vocational Rehabilitation Services office, and Offices of the Inspector General.

The campus property is also home to other important community organizations, including the Office of State Guardian, Southernmost Illinois Tourism, Shawnee Development Council, ASH Credit Union, a Fellowship House Treatment Facility, Tri County School District, Homeless, Inc., Sunrise Preschool (a child and infant daycare), and Southern 7 Head Start.

Today's Bright Spots

(Jimmy Ralls and Melinda Dunford - Choate Mental Health & Developmental Center)

Jimmy Ralls is a Staff Development Specialist in the training center and has more than 30 years of experience working for the State of Illinois. Jimmy is responsible for coordinating, planning, conducting, and monitoring training for new hires and certified employees. However, like many at IDHS, Jimmy has stepped up to serve beyond his daily commitments.

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsened and the need for PPE became more evident, Jimmy helped to secure masks from the community and a friend, securing a donation of more than 500 masks. He was also trained to help with temperature checks to expedite that process for our staff.

Melinda Dunford has worked at Choate for more than five years, and for the last year, she has served as the Infection Control Nurse.

With chief responsibilities to help limit the spread of infection among patients, Melinda quickly sprang into action to protect the well-being of Choate staff and residents.

During this time of crisis, Melinda has worked tirelessly to make sure that staff have access to all of the PPE equipment that they need in order to be able to safely perform their duties. She has also been offering hygiene training and providing education on social distancing.

Choate's Medical Director, Dr. Jonathan Cohen, says that. "Melinda is hardworking, dedicated, and knowledgeable." Without a doubt, these are traits that describe so many staff across our IDHS system.

Thank you to Jimmy, Melinda, and to all of you who show up every day, learning new tasks and adjusting with us as we move forward.

Please see the updates from yesterday's COVID-19 press conference.

COVID-19 Updates from the Governor's 04-17-2020 Press Conference

  • School Year: Governor Pritzker announced that he will suspend in-person learning for the remainder of the school year. He noted that it was not an easy decision nor one he made lightly, but that he is confident that our schools will manage and expand the learning opportunities for all of our children who will be working from home over the coming weeks.
  • Executive Order: The Governor also announced a new Executive Order to modify licensing requirements for future educators who are nearly finished with their studies, including student teachers, to ensure that this situation does not impact the ability of schools to hire qualified teachers they need when students come back.
  • Federal Funds: Governor Pritzker highlighted $569 million to support our K-12 schools from the federal CARES Act in response to COVID-19, dollars that can help equip students with technology and internet access to enhance remote learning. These funds can also be used to support teachers in developing their remote instruction skills, and to assist schools in continuing to provide meals to children and communities.
  • Grades: The Governor's Office and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) are recommending that any grades given during this pandemic reflect the unprecedented circumstances in which students are attempting to continue their studies. Their suggestion to school districts is that grades should deliver feedback during these difficult times and not be used as a tool for compliance.
  • Digital Divide: Illinois Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala reported that a strategic effort will extend beyond the end of this pandemic, focused on using the CARES Act funding allocations to increase access to technology and devices in our least resourced districts and encouraging school districts to do the same. She noted that closing the digital divide will be pivotal in fulfilling the agency's new post-pandemic strategic plan.
  • Hospital Capacity: IDPH Director Dr. Ezike relayed that her agency divides the State's 211 hospitals into 11 regions, and that while currently no regions are at full capacity, there are individual hospitals getting full which has resulted in transfers within a region.
  • Daily Statewide COVID-19 cases: 1,842 new cases reported and 62 additional deaths.

Thank you,


Grace B. Hou

Secretary, IDHS