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New McLean Co. Health Administrator Preps For Mental Health, Shifting Needs

McLean County Health Department
Eric Stock
Jessica McKnight takes over as McLean County Health Department Administrator on Jan. 27.

Legal marijuana, teen vaping and rural HIV are just a few of the key issues McLean County's new health department administrator faces as she takes over a department that is seeing staff and funding cuts as more money is being devoted to mental health.
Jessica McKnight, currently director of the St. Francois County Health Center in Farmington, Mo., south of St. Louis, replaces Camille Rodriguez, who become the McLean County administrator.

Jessica McKnight portrait
Credit McLean County
Jessica McKnight takes over as McLean County Health Department administrator on Jan. 27.

McKnight said on WGLT’s Sound Ideas her primary focus will be to address the biggest needs that the county's recent health assessment identified: mental health, obesity and unhealthy living, and providing healthcare in underserved areas.

“Increasing access to those services, focusing on those rural areas in McLean County, getting in there and seeing what’s happening, hear from the people there, what their needs are, and what we as a health department and those partnerships (can do to) be able to meet those needs,” McKnight said.

While the county is expanding its mental health budget, the health department's budget has been cut 7% for 2020.

McKnight said the department is cutting three positions in health education, but she said the county's focus on mental health needs is a sign of changing priorities and public health needs.

The county's mental health program is run by the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, but McKnight said her department will also work to improve behavioral health where it can.

“Focusing on reducing stigma, reducing those risky behaviors, suicide and the role of the health department is to provide funding to support service providers for delivery of those evidence-based programs and stay involved in those key partnerships,” McKnight said.

She cited the county’s new emergency counseling and crisis management to children in McLean County schools as one example where the health department can provide assistance.


Legal marijuana is new territory for many health administrators in Illinois, especially those who come from states where cannabis is still a banned substance.

McKnight said she will work to educate young people about the risks of substance abuse to prevent them from starting the habit before they can legally use it.

“Reducing initiation in schools among youth is a focus on vaping-related issues. I’m assuming that treating marijuana similarly in a public health focus of knowing the risks and as a safety standpoint from knowing impairment and judgement and the dangers of that,” McKnight said.

There are reports young people are using vaping devices to get THC, the mind-altering compound from marijuana, into their system.

Marijuana is still illegal for anyone under 21. 

McKnight starts Jan. 27.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.