Jennifer Banek: Candidate profile, Lake County coroner
Democrat Jennifer Banek of Green Oaks is running for Lake County coroner in the 2020 election.
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what?
A: I am running for this office because I am strongly committed to serving my community. Currently, I serve my community as a mentor for local youth through an organization called College Bound Opportunities. I also serve my country as a captain in the United States Army Reserves.
In addition, I am a health care provider. Last year, I lost a friend and colleague to a narcotic overdose. The coroner position uniquely combines my medical expertise with my dedication to public service and my commitment to collaborating with advocacy initiatives to combat the increasing trend of narcotic overdoses.
Q: If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of any important initiatives you've led. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the office and what would your priority be?
A: As a challenger to the coroner ticket, I plan to bring an increased sense of advocacy, professionalism and collaboration to the Lake County Coroner's Office.
I have been advocating for patients since 2005. I plan to continue advocating for Lake County residents by talking with legislators about preventable deaths that I am witnessing in our county and by connecting residents to useful, vetted resources.
I will also update the current coroner's website with current, detailed information. In addition, if I am elected to be the next Lake County Coroner, I will provide the Lake County Board with a detailed report highlighting expenditures and any unusual statistical trends.
Q: What special experience and professional qualifications does a person need to be an effective coroner? What experiences and qualifications do you possess that will provide a foundation for your success in office?
A: Having medical expertise, good leadership skills, being able to interact with the community with a sense of compassion and empathy, and appreciation for the commitment of the office's unionized labor are all important qualifications to being an effective coroner.
I am a nurse anesthesiologist. I have a Master of Science in nursing and have extensively studied human anatomy and physiology and pharmacology. As a captain in the United States Army Reserves, this has additionally honed my critical thinking skills, in addition to having excellent situational awareness. These skills have been developed through leadership courses I have taken, leadership positions I have held, and through working with people across the country and around the world.
Recently, I had the opportunity to exercise these skills while serving on a Damage Control Surgical Team in the Middle East. We not only provide surgical services to service members, but role-played mass casualty and other emergent scenarios.
As a nurse anesthesiologist, I have comforted patients when they are most vulnerable. I will bring this skill to the coroner's office.
Q: Describe your position regarding the allocation of resources in the coroner's office. Are personnel allocated as they should be? Are there capital expense or budgetary items that the office must address, and, if so, how do you propose to address them?
A: The last reported budget for the Lake County Coroner's Office was $1.8 million. The Lake County Board approves this budget, but the incumbent coroner has refused to submit monthly reports to the County Board, as requested by board members. I also think it is alarming that the incumbent coroner requested a raise earlier this year at the commencement of the pandemic. In April 2020, Lake County had a 14% unemployment rate. I feel this is hardly the time for an elected official to be requesting a raise.
Q: Describe your position on transparency and public service in the coroner's office and the ease of access to records by the public. If you believe improvements are needed, what are they and how would you go about achieving them?
A. The Lake County Board should be routinely apprised of the status of the coroner's office's financial expenditures. The coroner should make accommodations to be accessible and present at board meetings.
This year, Lake County has seen a 100% increase in narcotic overdoses and suicides. The coroner's office has been silent on this issue. There should be improved messaging, alerting residents about this alarming trend, in addition to capitalizing on opportunities to partner with community organizations as a means to combat these preventable mortalities.
Q: In light of the coronavirus pandemic, going forward, do you see needed staffing or equipment improvements/reductions/changes? Does/will how services are provided have to fundamentally and permanently change as a result? What do you suggest?
A. I think the COVID pandemic is an especially dynamic period in time that requires constant and consistent evaluation. I certainly think that the dissemination of complete information regarding statistical data should be a permanently implemented change.