By Nyesha Stone
It was almost eight months ago when Jeannette Kowalik was voted in as Milwaukee’s Health Commissioner. Since then she’s focused on the high rate of infant mortality, specifically in Black communities. Kowalik has also been working on making Milwaukee Health Department’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program more visible to the community.
She stated that the City of Milwaukee Health Department lacked community outreach, but now that she’s in office that will all change. Kowalik emphasized the reality of change—it will take a while, at least a year to see her impact specifically when it comes to lead.
During National Public Health Week, the Health Department held two lead-safe Milwaukee resource fairs. Those who attended had the opportunity to receive free lead-safe home kits, water filters, get tested for lead and enjoy in lead-safe activities.
Kowalik said one major issue the Health Department is facing when it comes to fixing Milwaukee’s lead issues is the lack of contractors. She said the Health Department has a backlog of houses, which need lead abatement.
There is also a lead prevention coalition that is in the works, which will address the question: “what is the trajectory plan to eliminate lead in Milwaukee,” said Kowalik.
When it comes to Kowalik’s credibility as a health commissioner, she understands the issues facing Milwaukee first hand.
“I was a client to many of the services we provide,” Kowalik said about the Health Department.
As a past WIC recipient, Kowalik didn’t understand the value of the program until her own pregnancy, when she entered the program. She wants her story to inspire others. Just because you don’t have it all or even if you need a little extra help from the city, state or the federal government that doesn’t define your outcome.
Kowalik said she moved back to Milwaukee because she felt it was her “divine call…to help make things better” in the city.
She said it’s time for new leaders to step up while still paying respect to those who’ve come before us.
Kowalik said her job is to “connect people to education and awareness so they can be better off.”
It’s time to “acknowledge that if we’re going to be great, we all can be great together.”