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District 9 Candidates Value Health Initiatives, Differ On Approach

Democrat Jackie Gunderson, left, is running for the McLean County Board District 9 seat currently held by Republican Susan Schafer, right, who was first elected in 2010.

The candidates vying for a McLean County Board seat representing Bloomington’s south end share visions of a cooperative approach to handling and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a well-functioning county-run nursing home.

The two differ on their approaches and priorities representing the area.

The race for McLean County Board District 9 pits incumbent Republican Susan Schafer against Democratic challenger Jackie Gunderson. WGLT interviewed both candidates separately.

Listen to WGLT's interview with Republican Susan Schafer.

Schafer is a four-decade resident of McLean County and a 10-year veteran of the board, who has served on numerous committees, including the health committee that she currently chairs. Schafer also serves on the Board of Health, the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, among others.

“As a co-author of the mental health action plan, and a leader in its implementation, I have shown the leadership skills needed by working and collaborating to bring systemic change to the behavioral health services in McLean County,” Schafer said. “I'm running for re-election to continue to be that champion--not only for the progress that has been made, but for the vision and passion to continue moving forward with new and innovative initiatives.”

Gunderson moved to Bloomington-Normal to attend Illinois State University about 10 years ago. She is now a full-time employee of ISU and a student at Lincoln College, who offers years of experience working with nonprofit organizations, like the Penguin Project.

“I fell in love with the community and I never left. My journey has changed over the years. But I really set my roots here and I consider this my home now,” Gunderson said. “I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in so many great organizations in this community over the last 10 years that have helped me grow and develop, and I consider it my duty to pour my energy back into the community that has blessed me.”

Both support maintaining county control of the McLean County Nursing Home, while looking into ways to make the facility more successful.

Gunderson said conversations about rebranding or privatizing the facility may be premature, adding she’s hopeful the new nursing home administrator will be able to revitalize the Normal facility.

“I'm really interested to learn more about how that could be supported because it is a unique asset that we have,” Gunderson said. “I am for it staying with the county, as long as it has the resources that it needs so that the quality of care remains excellent.”

Schafer said the nursing home has long carried a stigma, but also said it needs to remain an option for residents -- especially those on Medicaid.

“There's a lot of people that actually run out of money if they're in private nursing homes currently, and so then they have to have some place to go,” Schafer said. “It is an enterprise fund, it employs about 80 people. I think that it’s an option that we need to have in this community so that people can be close to their family and when they're in those situations.”

Both candidates point to different keys to success for the county health department to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schafer said it's important to foster collaboration between the county board and health department.

“The county board has no operational authority over the health department. so I work to make sure that we have a good relationship between the two boards because, in the past, it had been very adversarial,” Schafer said.

Gunderson said the health department has a tall order, coordinating guidance from officials at the federal, state and local levels that is made difficult with lack of staff and other resources.

Credit McLean County Government

“I think that they have become overwhelmed, and I would like to see resources allocated to them to make sure that they have everything they need so that they can continue to guide the way for McLean County, because we're all looking to them to make it through this,” Gunderson said.

Gunderson said District 9’s unique shape means residents in different areas will have different challenges and priorities. She said, if elected, her main goal would be to make sure people understand the struggles of others and stepping up to do something about it.

“I have found that there are a lot of places where people on the margins are sometimes forgotten about and sometimes intentionally left out,” Gunderson said. “Most of what my focus is, is reaching out to those people and making sure that they're included and they're celebrated and they're represented.”

Schafer said many of the concerns she hears from constituents are better handled at the city level. She said her job often becomes connecting people with the appropriate channels. When it comes to her approach to serving on the county board, Schafer said she’s not bound by any one political philosophy.

“My political philosophy is: I look at the facts. I look at what the issues are individually, on each issue. I look at the facts. I do research and base decisions based on that,” Schafer said. “I just want to do the right thing for McLean County.”

Republicans currently hold a 13-7 majority on the McLean County Board. For Democrats to win control, they would have to win four of the five contested seats currently held by Republicans, and protect the Democratic seats in District 6 and District 8.

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Dana Vollmer is a reporter with WGLT. Dana previously covered the state Capitol for NPR Illinois and Peoria for WCBU.