Lake County Health Department Executive Director Irene Pierce says she plans to retire in March after 23 years with the agency.
Pierce, 63, announced her intent to retire in a letter to Lake County officials Wednesday night. She said Thursday her decision to retire early next year was part of a life plan she and her husband had long established.
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"We plan to enjoy our daughter's wedding next summer and enjoy some travel," Pierce said.
Pierce said she won't be idle in retirement, because she plans to continue advocating for the care of the underserved, being a voice for public health and promoting social justice. She said she and her husband, who's retired, will move from Wadsworth to Evanston.
In a statement, Lake County Board of Health Chairman Michael Waxman said Pierce's departure will be a loss for the agency. The board will conduct a national search for the next executive director.
"Under her leadership, there was continuous emphasis on providing as much service as possible despite the dwindling resources for public health. She was the right person for the agency during this time," Waxman said.
Pierce started with the health department as associate director of medical services in 1990. She was the director of primary care services for 13 years before being appointed executive director for the health department and community health center in 2008.
Among Pierce's achievements was creation of the Kids' 1st Health Fair, which provides free health care services to more than 1,000 school-aged children annually. It has become a communitywide collaboration with United Way of Lake County and Rosalind Franklin University Health System.
Pierce said she's helped to create several partnerships to bring health department services across Lake County. While based in Waukegan, the agency has about 50 programs in Grayslake, Highland Park, Lake Villa, Libertyville, Mundelein, North Chicago, Park City, Round Lake Beach, Round Lake Park, Vernon Hills, Waukegan and Zion.
"Because of the economy, this has been like a roller coaster trying to maintain our services for the community," Pierce said.
She said she hopes the health department continues an emphasis on prevention initiatives, such as the importance of eating well, exercising and limiting alcohol consumption.
Pierce's career highlights include spending 18 months abroad working at Tokanui Hospital in New Zealand to develop the first visiting nurse program for the chronically mentally ill. She has a master's degree in nursing.