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City's public health commissioner will leave for private sector

Dr. Bechara Choucair is stepping down as commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health after five years.

Choucair said he is leaving to become senior vice president for safety-net transformation and community health at Trinity Health, one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic health care delivery systems in the country.

Trinity owns Loyola University Health System in Maywood and Mercy Health System on Chicago’s near south side. Choucair will stay in Chicago but commute to Michigan.

Choucair said he was looking forward to taking what he had learned on improving population health from a government perspective to the public-private arena.

“I think Chicago is healthier today than what it was a few years ago. And I’m very happy that I had the opportunity to serve and the opportunity to be part of that public health movement here in the city,” he said.

Dr. Julie Morita, currently CDPH’s chief medical officer, will replace Choucair at the end of this month, pending City Council approval. Morita is a board-certified pediatrician who has been medical director of the Immunization Program at CDPH since 1999.

Choucair has been the commissioner since December 2009 and launched Healthy Chicago, a blueprint for improving key issues in Chicago’s health. Backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Choucair also spearheaded moves to restrict electronic cigarettes, as well impose tougher regulations on smoking. That includedincreasing the cigarette tax and prohibiting sales of flavored tobacco products within 500 feet of a school.

“He encouraged us to “think big” when it came to tobacco control and the evidence of his success is that Chicago has the lowest youth smoking rate in Chicago history, 10.7 percent,” Joel Africk, president of the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.

Emanuel thanked Choucair for the “hard work” he did to get Chicago moving in the right direction.

“Since launching Healthy Chicago, we have reported declines in childhood obesity rates and teen smoking rates while making real progress in our fight to close breast cancer disparities,” Emanuel said. “I expect the progress to continue under the leadership of Dr. Morita.”