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Scant evidence of health impact from clinic closure

Three years after Evanston started scaling back its health department, department officials are still looking for data to show the phase-out has hurt the overall health of Evanstonians.

Health Director Evonda Thomas told aldermen last week that the number of cases of the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia has risen 25 percent in Evanston since 2007.

Three years after Evanston started scaling back its health department, department officials are still looking for data to show the phase-out has hurt the overall health of Evanstonians.

Health Director Evonda Thomas told aldermen last week that the number of cases of the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia has risen 25 percent in Evanston since 2007.

And Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, called that increase "alarming."

But in an interview Thursday with Evanston Now, Thomas said the chlamydia increase in Evanston is in line with what’s been seen nationwide during the same period.

The federal Centers for Disease Control reports that chlamydia cases have been rising nationwide for the past two decades and rose 9.2 percent just between 2007 and 2008. 

Chlamydia infections, the CDC says, are usually asymptomatic, but can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease in women, a major cause of infertility, ectopic pregnancy and chronic pelvic pain.

We also requested from Thomas chlamydia rates for the city for each of the past 10 years to more closely compare those with national figures, but have not yet received that data.

Thomas said the health department is "still teasing out" data on other health statistics that might show a decline in health standards because of the closure of the department’s clinical services program.

She says health figures at the county level are readily available online, but that they can be hard to obtain for a community the size of Evanston.

She says the department still collects birth and death records and hopes to be able to determine from those whether health indicators like low birth weight and teen pregnancy levels have changed in ways that might show an impact from the clinic’s closure.

Reorganization of the health department has reduced its staffing by roughly half since 2007 to 18.3 full-time-equivalent employees. Budgeted annual Health Department expenses have declined from $2.9 million in 2006-07 to $2.3 million to 2010-11.

In addition to recording births and deaths, the department still conducts restaurant and other health inspections, operates a dental clinic and manages city-funded mental health grants for programs operated by private agencies, but reproductive health and other clinical programs for teenagers and adults have been eliminated.

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