New CPS health chief goes to work – before she even got the job

SHARE New CPS health chief goes to work – before she even got the job

Elizabeth Whitfield who came to the Chicago School Board meeting and spoke about being against the possible closing of Stagg School, passed out in the audience after speaking an emotional appeal to the board. | Al Podgorski

Before she was even hired, Chicago Schools’ new chief health officer addressed a health problem Wednesday – by rushing to the side of a woman who collapsed during a school board meeting.

“I’m a physician. Someone was in need. I just wanted to make sure she was not in a critical situation,” said Dr, Stephanie Whyte hours before school board members agreed to pay her $157,000 a year in the newly-created position of chief health officer for Chicago Public Schools.

Elizabeth Whitfield was walking to her seat after making an impassioned plea to board members to spare Stagg Elementary from a management and staff shakeup when she collapsed and fell to the floor. Whyte, who was nearby, got on her knees to comfort and monitor the woman as she lay on the floor. Whyte kept the crowd away, along with a retired nurse, until paramedics arrived.

She was conscious, and “awake and aware” when she was taken off by paramedics, Whyte said this afternoon.

Paramedics treated the woman on the scene, and she was released, authorities said.

In her new role, Whyte will oversee several new health policies approved Wednesday, including the stocking of four to six epinephrine injectors, called epi-pens, in every CPS school to prevent life-threatening allergic reactions. Students also will be allowed to carry and self-administer epi-pens with the written approval of their parents.

“You’d have to be an idiot to oppose it,” Mike Carlson told board members Wednesday. His daughter, Katelyn Carlson, died following an allergic reaction to peanuts during a 2010 CPS school party, leading to a change in Illinois law on stocking the pens in schools.

Whyte has extensive experience working in diverse CPS communities as a pediatrician and most recently worked as medical director of the Mobile CARE Foundation. The foundation operates mobile ashthma vans that bring asthma care and education to students across the city.

School board members also voted Wednesday to let students carry and self-administer asthma medication and insulin, with parent approval. Previously, a doctor’s approval was required.

The new policies affect more than 19,000 students with documented asthma and nearly 700 with documented Type 1 or 2 diabetes.

Under the new asthma and diabetes management policies, families are asked to alert their schools that their children have those medical conditions. Delegated care aides will be trained to help students with diabetes in case school nurses are not available.

Whyte will oversee implementation of the “Healthy Schools” component of the city’s “Healthy Chicago” initiative announced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel last fall.

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