By JACKSON WILSON
Enquirer Democrat Reporter
After 39 years of service and dedication, Kent Tarro is retiring from the Macoupin County Public Health Department.
On Jan. 10, a celebration was held for Tarro in the Gillespie Civic Center, which was jam-packed with family, friends and fellow employees that took time out of their busy work days to bid farewell though many jokingly questioned if he was really stepping down.
“The answer to that is yes,” Tarro said with a chuckle. “I’m a little tired. I’m either giving it 150 percent and all my focus or I’m done. And folks, I’m done. I’ll always be here for everyone in terms of options, planning the best way to do something, cost benefits, etc. That’ll always happen but, otherwise, I’m done.”
MCPHD Assistant Director of Clinical Services Becky Hatlee, acting as the event’s main speaker, welcomed everyone and then shared some parting words on behalf of the entire medical team.
“Kent’s vision was always to work to the best of his ability to help people in need get healthy and stay healthy while being the best he could be,” Hatlee said. “He vowed to always give 110 percent to every effort and to be a part of the solution to solving society’s health and healthcare problems, while ensuring to not being part of the problem. He’s always seen the potential in the MCPHD and other health centers, steering this organization and team through incredibly difficult and challenging times and times of great change, overseeing many defining moments and major developments throughout the years. He has proven his talents and is leaving behind a legacy that he will forever be remembered by.”
Retired workers Peggy Garrison and Karen Hazard also came to the podium to honor their former boss.
Garrison served as the MCPHD Chief Financial Officer from 1988 to 2022.
Hazard became the Director of Nursing in 1987 and resigned in 2012.
“There’s not many people that I would get up and speak for, but I felt I owed this to Kent,” Garrison said. “You can’t be successful without ruffling a few feathers and let’s face it, over the years, Kent may have ruffled more feathers than you can find at a turkey farm in November, but this was all done for the betterment of the county.”
“Kent has always been a man of great vision,” Hazard said. “When he was approached by someone that had an obstacle they were facing, he would work to find a way to meet that need or diminish the obstacle itself whether it was by aggressively seeking a new grant, readjusting the current staff, new work techniques or refinement of old techniques, or just continuing to provide the good services that the health department was providing. He did his best to provide education and training to keep our staff up to date on anything we needed to do. Everything you see with the MCPHD today is all thanks to him and his determination.”
“I’m grateful for everyone here today acknowledging my long career, but I also want to thank everyone here for your support,” Tarro said. “This health department has accomplished so much since our beginning. We have met every challenge that has come before us successfully with professionalism, class, integrity and grit. There’s so many people to thank that supported our efforts in providing quality care to prevent disease, treat illness and help patients control their chronic diseases. I want to thank our excellent staff, the MCPHD, the health center board, the Macoupin County board, the Illinois Department of Public Health, human services, transportation, the Governor, Illinois House and Senate, our Mayors and city councils, law enforcement, state’s attorneys, county staffs, schools, businesses, the public in general and, of course, my family for supporting me during my long hours all these years.”
Tarro has announced that Jan. 14 will be the last official day of his career.
Tarro began working for the MCPHD in 1983 as the assistant administrator under June Weise. When Weise retired in 1990, Tarro took over her position and later became the longest-serving administrator in the state of Illinois.
Over the years, Tarro implemented many programs. Two examples included the Safe Family Domestic Violence Victim Advocacy Program and the Healthy Families Program.
In 1995, Tarro was instrumental in getting the Macoupin County Transportation program started. His mission was to attract and retain customers by providing the ‘best-in-class’ transportation solutions while fostering a disciplined culture of safety, service and trust for residents. In 2011, he was able to obtain both state and federal certification for this program, which further expanded funding opportunities. The MCPHD Transportation program now provides an average of more than 80,000 rides for Macoupin County residents each year.
The year 1995 was a major stepping stone for Tarro, as he went on to open the first dental clinic in 1998 and first medical clinic in 2002. He then started a mental health service program within the medical clinic in 2006.
In 2008, Tarro opened the Maple Street Clinic.
On this journey, Tarro’s dedication to serve continued to amaze and inspire people at the local, state and federal state levels.
Come 2011, Tarro was able to successfully certify the MSC as a federally qualified health center after many years of persistence. His desire was for the facility to possess a collaborative approach which provided dental, medical and behavioral health services. This milestone ensured just that.
Being able to provide this comprehensive care to patients regardless of age, race or income was always Tarro’s goal.
Because of Tarro’s efforts, health services are now being offered at many other expansion locations which include the Health and Wellness Center in Gillespie; the Morgan Street Clinic in Carlinville; the Columbian Boulevard Dental Clinic in Litchfield; St. Francis Way Clinic in Litchfield; and the Oakland Avenue Clinic in Carlinville.
“What an accomplishment to Kent’s vision that now resides with six service sites in two counties, serving over 9,000 patients each year,” said Hatlee.
Tarro wore many hats throughout his working life in the MCPHD. In addition to being a registered dietitian and Public Health Administrator for the past 32 years, he was the coordinator and nutritionist for 25 years, the Dental Program Administrator for 24 years, the Medical Program Administrator for 21 years, the Public Transportation Administrator for 27 years and the health center Chief Executive Officer for the past 11 years. He’s also remained active in many agencies including the Illinois Rural Health Association, the Illinois Association of Public Health Administrators, the Illinois Public Health Association, the American Diabetic Association and the American Cancer Society.
“The relationship between our CEO and staff is mutual,” said Hatlee. “Everyone in this room, from the longest serving employee to our newest recruit, is contributing to the health department’s continued success. But make no mistake, our longest-serving employee and newest recruit are here because of Kent’s drive, vision and his commitment to serve.
Tarro has entrusted Christy Blank to be his successor. Blank has been with the health department for five years while serving as a Chief Operating Officer, Public Health Director, Compliance and Risk Management Officer. She also has experience in quality improvement and quality assurance.
“I thank Christy for stepping up to direct the organization from here,” Tarro said. “I look forward to seeing many more accomplishments and successes. Together, we have all worked very hard to make Macoupin County a healthier and better place to live.”