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Thomas takes new position leading community health, civic engagement

January 9, 2015

January 9, 2015

Cristal Thomas, deputy governor of Illinois, has been named vice president for Community Health Engagement at the University of Chicago Medicine and senior adviser to the vice president for Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago.

In this new position, she will foster relationships between the university, the medical campus and South Side residents. She will be charged with expanding and enhancing the university's relationships and programs throughout neighborhoods on the city's South Side. She also will lead efforts to improve the health and wellness of Chicagoans who must navigate an increasingly complex medical landscape. She will work in tandem with UChicago Medicine's Urban Health Initiative.

"Cristal brings to this role extensive senior-level experience leading innovative health policy and community partnerships in the public sector," said Kenneth Polonsky, MD, executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Chicago and dean of the Biological Sciences Division and Pritzker School of Medicine. "Her work in health, public policy and community programs will strengthen the longstanding ties between the university and our South Side neighbors.

Thomas also will serve as senior adviser to Derek R.B. Douglas, the University of Chicago's vice president for civic engagement.

"Community health is a critical area where, through various civic partnerships, the university aims to have a positive impact in the areas surrounding our campus," Douglas said. "I am confident Cristal's experience and insights will make her a valuable contributor to this work."

Thomas began work as deputy governor in 2011 and continued that position until early 2015. In that role, she oversaw implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act in Illinois and led efforts to transform the state's Medicaid program. She also initiated public-private partnerships aimed at reducing childhood hunger as well as a grant program that brought grocery stores to underserved Illinois markets.

Before joining Gov. Pat Quinn's administration, Thomas was regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as executive director of the Ohio Executive Medicaid Management Administration and director of the Ohio Medicaid program. She was also assistant director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Thomas began her career working as a policy analyst in the federal Office of Management and Budget.

She received her undergraduate degree in molecular genetics from Ohio State University in 1998 and went on to earn a master's degree in public policy from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy in 2001.

Thomas will begin her new position on Feb. 2.

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