Karen Ayala reflects on time as DuPage County Health Department Director

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“It’s been a great run,” said Ayala. “And I’ve appreciated everything that the county of DuPage and all of the people who work at the health department provide.”

Karen Ayala will retire from her job as Executive Director of the DuPage County Health Department (DCHD) on June 30. She announced her pending departure during a DuPage County Board meeting in late March.

Experience with the Winnebago County Health Department

Ayala began her career in public health with the Winnebago County Health Department as a case manager for pregnant and parenting teens. That experience helped her discover her passion for helping others.

“I had a caseload of 350 families who I visited throughout the first couple years of their pregnancy and the baby’s life,” said Ayala. “The more I learned about public health and the way in which it approaches community development, the more I loved it. So there’s been no looking back.”

Ayala moved to the DCHD in 2007. She spent seven years as a unit director before becoming executive director in 2014.

Ayala worked to improve several health issues for residents during her time as executive director, such as mental health care, the opioid crisis and equity in health care services. 

DuPage County’s response to COVID-19

But perhaps her biggest challenge came over the past four years, as she spearheaded the county’s efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic, something she considers, “a once in a lifetime experience.”

“I was very proud of the way that the DuPage County Health Department, and DuPage County residents rallied together to address the challenges that arose,” said Ayala.

With the DCHD’s voice louder than ever, Ayala worked hard to keep county residents informed.

“That level of scrutiny and awareness was certainly something new, and really helped us finesse and develop our communication strategies and our abilities to communicate nuanced messages to our communities,” said Ayala.

Ayala’s advice to aspiring health care professionals

After having spent over 25 years in the world of public health, Ayala is moving to a ranch in Texas with her husband. She said she is hopeful for the future generations of healthcare professionals.

“If you’re really looking for a career that will challenge you, and at the same time you will have the opportunity to do different things every day,” said Ayala. “You will have the ability to impact people in their everyday lives, and really mold not only this generation, but the next generation, then grab onto public health.”

Karen Ayala is grateful for her years with the DuPage County Health Department, and said it’s the people she’ll miss the most.

“I think that I have had the opportunity to work with some of the best, outstanding, brightest individuals and the team that we have developed here at the health department and across the community is really unprecedented,” said Ayala.

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