The 2020 election has already started in Champaign County, with in-person early voting at Brookens Administrative Center and yellow drop boxes around town to secure your mail-in ballot. Unlike the race for President or our close 13th Congressional District race, not all of the candidates seeking your filled-in oval get the headlines. Some are working to connect their experiences to an important, if not often thought of, position of coroner. I spoke with Democratic candidate for Champaign County Coroner Chaundra Bishop about her vision for the role.
Smile Politely: What does a county coroner do, and what is your vision for the position? How is that different from the way things are done now?
Chaundra Bishop: When people think about government, they rarely think of the coroner’s office first. In fact, a question I spend a lot of time answering is, 'what does the coroner’s office do?' The coroner’s office has three primary duties:
- First, the office investigates deaths. Whether they be homicides, suicides, accidental, natural, or undetermined. Every coroner in the state goes through mandatory training to teach them the skills to do this.
- Second, the office maintains the records of all deaths in Champaign County and issues cremation permits and death certificates.
And finally, the coroner’s office talks to grieving families to assure them their loved ones are well cared for.
These three tasks are required by law. However, I think we can do more. As coroner, I would also:
- Conduct public and community education programs that both enrich the community and save lives.
- Expand the role that technology and data play in record keeping.
- And finally, I would work to increase the number of organ and tissue donors in Champaign County through outreach and education.
In many ways, I want to demystify the coroner’s office. When your coroner is active in the community and focused on keeping people alive, you can trust her to do the important work of investigating death in our community.
SP: You talk about wanting to expand this position to reduce preventable deaths in Champaign County. Who would you work with as coroner to expand the role?
Bishop: Sometimes a lot of what’s missing from prevention work is collaboration. The basis for a lot of my work is collaboration with community organizations, government entities, and healthcare providers. I would work with those groups and others to help bolster existing initiatives and provide the useful data from the coroner’s office to assist in obtaining grant funds for our community that fund prevention programs and initiatives to help reduce unnecessary deaths.
SP: Public health is front-and-center in our minds these days. What is your background in public health and how will it inform your role as coroner?
Bishop: I’m beyond grateful that public health is the center of attention right now, it has been placed on the back burner for far too long. I have worked nearly a decade in the public health field developing programs that protect children from unintentional injury, that reduce substance abuse and misuse, and those that work to prevent chronic diseases. I earned a Master’s in Public Health and Bachelor's Degree in Biological Sciences with a minor in Chemistry.
Currently I work for the Champaign County United Way as a Regional Community Health Plan Coordinator. This entails planning and coordinating strategies that result in the completion of Champaign and Vermilion Counties’ needs assessment, assisting and participating in grant preparation, gathering and analyzing information and serving as a community liaison. Prior to my current role, I worked as the Healthier Communities Initiatives Director for the YMCA in Springfield, and as a Health Educator for the Adams County Health Department in Quincy, Illinois.
Especially in these times, this job requires someone who is simply determined to help people live and thrive; which is why with my background and experience, I bring a unique vision and perspective to the role of coroner. Your coroner shouldn’t just determine the cause of death, they should proactively work to help prevent it.
SP: What experiences have led you to run for Champaign County Coroner?
Bishop: I’ve devoted my life to public service. As a public health professional, I have worked hard over the last decade to make our communities healthy and safe. I care about the Champaign County community and I have chosen to run for this office because I believe I have the skills necessary to improve the office for the community. There are many deaths in the community that fall under the category of preventable and I believe my knowledge and skills of public health education could be helpful in collaborating with other community leaders and organizations working in the same vein.
Especially in these times, this job requires someone who is simply determined to help people live, which is why I want to bring my public health experience to the coroner’s office.
SP: How has campaigning been different this year?
Bishop: Like many running for office this cycle, my campaign has had to switch to mostly digital operations instead of the typical door-to-door and in person community events I really enjoyed being a part of during the primary season. Life is always throwing curve balls, but I am accustomed to adapting. My volunteers and I have spent a lot of time calling or texting voters as well as doing no-contact literature drops.
The effect the pandemic on my campaign pales in comparison to the disruption it has caused across the Champaign County community. Through my work with public health, I have done contact tracing and have talked to people every day as they lament about their hardships that range from compounded health issues, loneliness, losing or having to take time off from their jobs, not being able to get through to the unemployment office, the list goes on and on. It is so important that we all come together to get through this and listen to science and public health professionals so that our community and country can overcome this pandemic.
SP: Beyond your professional background and campaign, is there anything else you'd like the public to know about you?
Bishop: I’m really big on family! I am the oldest of three and my siblings and I are very close, even though we are not geographically close. In my down time, I typically spend it doing some volunteer or outreach program with the women of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, or reading the latest James Patterson novel, or my most favorite thing: long walks with my Yorkie puppy, Riley!
Despite my ever full plate, I decided that I needed to run for this office because we need people in office that listen to and support what science and scientists tell us, especially when dealing with the health and well-being of the public. People should expect their coroner to give truths autonomous of politics and be forward-thinking, ever asking, "how can I make my community better?" With everything that I become involved in, I am always looking to leave it better than I found it. This is why I am running for coroner.
If you would like to get involved in a progressive forward thinking campaign based on community, please join me at votechaundra.com.