Getting to know the doctor who will be public health director for the City of Sioux Falls


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Dr. Charles Chima, the new public health director for the City of Sioux Falls, will have his first day on the job on June 14. Born in Nigeria, Chima is a medical doctor who also holds a master of science in epidemiology as well as a doctor of public health.

“There’s something that you cannot purchase anywhere, which is the experience of having lived and trained in three different continents,” Chima said. “You just have a different world view.”

“He’s been a part of public health and health care on three different continents, alright,” Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken said. “And he’s seen health care delivery in a variety of different settings. And as our community continues to evolve and change in how we’re delivering care and the diversity of our market and so forth, I think Charles is going to bring an incredible perspective that I know I don’t have, and I know many in this city maybe don’t have.”

And now they do.

“I felt that strong desire to go back to the front lines of public health work,” Chima said. “And why Sioux Falls. Sioux Falls, the simple answer to that is that Sioux Falls loved me first.”

“I’m really honored that he applied and wanted to come to Sioux Falls, South Dakota,” TenHaken said.

TenHaken and Chima say COVID-19 has changed how people view public health.

“Our antennas are raised much more in this community around the importance of public health,” TenHaken said.

“I think COVID has brought sort of a heightened awareness about public health, but there’s still a lot of challenges we need to solve around trust,” Chima said.

“Getting the right person in this chair, knowing that we’re only one virus away from another pandemic and having someone with a epidemiology background and a clinical background and a leadership background I think is very, very important,” TenHaken said.

The clear, expert consensus is that COVID-19 vaccines are safe. Not everyone, however, is convinced.

Dan Santella: What do you say to them, to someone who might not trust the science behind COVID-19 vaccinations?

“So, I will start by first acknowledging where they’re coming from,” Chima said.

Education can bridge gaps.

“We need to do more in building awareness both in terms of the vaccine and the science around it,” Chima said.

And who the messenger is can make a difference.

“They may not listen to the doctor, to the expert, but they will take advice from someone they went to high school with or someone they just know from Facebook or something, right, and they will go with that, right, because they trust that person in another circumstance of life,” Chima said.

How the message arrives matters, too.

“Not just rely on the experts who tell people, ‘Oh, go take the vaccine, it’s right for you,'” Chima said. “It’s more, ‘No, I’m telling you that there’s nothing to be worried about. I’ve taken it, you too can get it,’ so we have to find champions to work with in the community.”

For Chima, leadership and service are tied.

“He who wants to be the leader, has to be, learn to be the servant,” Chima said. “And that’s how I approach leadership, is you have to come to leadership with a real desire to serve people.”

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