As the Village Forest Park looks to improve coordination and collaboration with Proviso area mental health service providers, it is bringing back the Forest Park Board of Health to provide professional advice.

While its new mandate calls for the board to advise the village on all public health issues, Maria Maxham, commissioner of Public Health and Safety, made it clear that getting expert opinion on mental health was the primary reason for bringing it back. While she and other village officials said that Forest Park doesn’t have the staff or the means to provide mental health services on its own, they wanted to do a better job of taking advantage of what local organizations are already providing and working with other governing bodies and local organizations on collaborative solutions.

The changes approved during the Feb. 27 village council meeting not only set down a new mandate but added the requirement that the board meet at least once a month and did away with the requirement that the public health and safety commissioner recommend the nominees, leaving the candidate selection at the mayor’s sole discretion. And while the village considered waiving residency requirements for board members on a case-by-case basis, the village council ended up keeping it, with commissioners reasoning that Forest Park already had plenty of well-qualified experts.  

In recent months, Forest Park has put an increasing emphasis on mental health. During the Jan. 23 special village council meeting on plans for spending American Recovery Plan Act funds, Village Administrator Moses Amidei recommended allocating $30,000 toward mental health assistance. 

During the same meeting, he mentioned that he, Maxham and other village officials had been discussing “reinvigorating the [board of health] specifically as a mental health board.”

The village is also working with the Proviso Township Mental Health Commission to organize a mental health expo. The event, which is tentatively scheduled for May 6, aims to give residents a better sense of what kind of mental health resources are out there and to reduce the stigma about seeking help for mental health issues.

The local health board was established in 2002, but it, like many other village advisory boards, committees and commissions, quietly faded away over time. But the board remained on the books, and, similarly to the Environmental Control Commission, Maxham decided to take advantage of what was already there.

“We thought it would be a great way to bring in some experts — right now in mental health, but I don’t think it’s going to be limited to that,” she said.

The Forest Park municipal code originally defined the health board’s duties as “having “management and control of all matters and things relating to the public health of the village,” but did not elaborate on what that entailed. The board was to have five members who are village residents, and who would be appointed for five-year terms “by the mayor upon the recommendation of the commissioner of health and safety, by and with the consent of the village council.”

The village council was originally supposed to approve the changes to the Board of Health structure during its Feb. 13 meeting. The ordinance included in the meeting packet kept the appointment process language but allowed mayors the discretion to nominate non-residents who “possesses technical training, knowledge, or experience which will enhance the composition of the board.” 

The version that went before the board on Feb. 27 took out the language about the public health commissioner recommending the appointments, leaving the selection at the sole discretion of the mayor. It also capped the number of non-residents that could be appointed to the board at two. 

Both versions of the amendment added language requiring the board to meet once a month. It removed the language about “management and control” and replaced it with the language specifying that the board will make policy recommendations to the village council on “matters pertaining to the public health of the village, including but not limited to mental and physical health.”

Maxham said they originally wanted to have the option to appoint non-residents so that they would be able to take advantage of the expertise of professionals who worked in Forest Park but didn’t live there – for example, someone who works for Riveredge Hospital mental health treatment center, 8311 Roosevelt Rd. The other commissioners persuaded her that it wasn’t necessary.

“[But] the other commissioners feel we can find people from Forest Park, and I think that to be true,” Maxham said.

Commissioner Ryan Nero said he was eager to see the new Board of Health get off the ground, saying that expanding mental health resources and support was important to him.

“We need to bring awareness to it, get folks engaged,” he said.

Mayor Rory Hoskins said he doesn’t expect to have any issues finding candidates.

“We happen to be located next to one of the largest medical districts in the country, and we have a lot of mental health professionals,” he said. “I have no doubt that we’ll have a lot of qualified people who will be willing to serve.”