Sidney Thomas has spent his entire career working toward greater healthcare access for all, becoming involved with HIV/AIDS issues, the implementation of Medicaid expansion in metropolitan Chicago and mental-health issues.
Thomas was born and raised in Milwaukee. He moved to Chicago in 1980 to take a job as a psychiatric social worker at Garfield Park Mental Health Centernow known as the Bobby E. Wright Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center. Following his stint at Garfield Park, Thomas became the director of emergency services at Community Counseling Centers of Chicago.
Prior to moving to Chicago, Thomas received his bachelor of arts in sociology from Beloit College and a master's degree in social work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. To enhance his management abilities, he's also completed most of the coursework for a certificate in healthcare management from Loyola University.
Thomas originally wanted to be a journalist because he loves people and their stories and then thought about early childhood education, but that all changed because of his mom's line of work.
My mom worked in a mental health facility and I was always fascinated with her stories of the patients she cared for," said Thomas. "A social work value is to be a change agent and I always wanted to play that role in underserved communities. I became interested in public health through my involvement in a training program for primary care physicians. I was part of a behavioral health team charged with helping internists understand the lives of their patients outside the exam room. That was in 1988 and we're finally acknowledging the role culture, employment, education, community and resources play in establishing and maintaining health."
Thomas' storied career includes holding a variety of positions at Cook County Health and Hospitals System ( CCHHS ) for more than 20 years. He's been a member of the behavioral health team responsible for improving internal-medicine resident's psychosocial assessment skills; an administrator of Woodlawn Adult Health Center and Englewood Family Medicine Health Center, where he helped kick off a health service initiative for Black men called Project Brotherhood; director of operations for the Ambulatory and Community Health Network; and the interim COO for seven years.
In 2007, Thomas moved to Provident Hospital ( a CCHHS facility ) to lead a team tasked with addressing violations that resulted in the hospital returning to good regulatory standing. Thomas' final position at CCHHS ( which he held for three years ) was in a newly created post, director of provider relations. During that time, Thomas was a part of the team charged with the planning and implementation of the Medicaid expansion for adults called CountyCare as a part of the Affordable Care Act.
Thomas was also a faculty member of post-graduate programs for internal medicine residents at what is now known as Stroger Hospital.
Upon leaving CCHHS, Thomas was named the COO of Near North Health Services Corporation, serving in that capacity for a year. He's since become an independent healthcare consultant.
Earlier this summer, Thomas was named by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle as one of five nominees to the governing board of CCHHS.
"I'm honored to be selected," said Thomas. "I've been a supporter of public health my entire career and CCHHS is a premier safety-net provider. I want to be a part of the team to guide the system as it enters a new phase of service delivery, while maintaining its mission of caring for the underserved."
Regarding his HIV/AIDS advocacy, Thomas has been a principal investigator for a number of state and federal grants tasked with HIV prevention and primary care, as well as in a variety of positions including the nation's first African-American HIV/AIDS service organization, Kupona Network. He was also an original member of the Chicago EMA Ryan White Title I Planning Council.
"Kupona Network demonstrated the ability of the Black community to care for itself," said Thomas. "At times, we were called racist and separatist, but our only intent was to care for members of our community and their families who were not getting the care and support they needed and deserved from majority white, gay organizations. Those organizations provided great care to folks they knew, but were totally clueless to the context Black, gay men operated within at the time."
As for the work he did with the Chicago EMA Ryan White Title I Planning Council, Thomas said, "Those were raucous meetings with many agendas. Everything was so dynamic at the time, but some members felt they were experts and could dictate to communities of color. Once the egos were checked, we got down to work and did some great work. I recall intense discussions about what defining case management. Some took a community organizing approach while others looked to traditional social and nursing models. It pleases me to still be around and see the organizations and models of care and prevention that grew out of that early work."
In addition to his work in the healthcare field and his new board post, Thomas is a member of the American Public Health Association.
"I'm also the treasurer on the boards of the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus, Public Health Institute of Chicago and Quality of Life [a State of Illinois Board tasked with making sure funds from lottery ticket sales are given to HIV service organizations]," said Thomas. "I've also done volunteer work with several HIV/AIDS service organizations and in the past have volunteered at Literacy Chicago."
Thomas' life isn't all work and no play, however. He has an active social life that includes both indoor and outdoor activities.
"I'm a member of a media club, which facilitates my interest in all forms of the arts, i.e., film, plays, fiction, museum exhibits, etc.," said Thomas. "I'm an avid bike rider and formerly played volleyball in the CMSA league. Music has always been a major part of my life. I grew up playing piano and clarinet and enjoy attending performances, particularly R&B and jazz. As a Chicagoan for more than 30 years, I'm a true House Music fanatic. I also enjoy all the restaurants in my West Loop neighborhood."