Category Archives: Local or community-based
Ruth Ann Shepherd, MD, division director for maternal and child health in the Kentucky Department for Public Health, was an early pioneer in recognizing the critical public health problem of preterm births in Kentucky, and that the troubling trend was common to most states in the country. Dr. Shepherd’s research revealed that babies born at 37 or 38 weeks had far worse health outcomes than babies born at 39 or 40 weeks. With support from the leadership at the Kentucky Department of Health, and many other organizations who have since taken up the cause of helping to create conditions for healthier babies, many states are beginning to make strides in preventing early births. Last week, Dr. David Lakey acknowledged her leadership in preventing preterm birth and infant mortality by awarding her the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) Presidential Meritorious Service Award.
Charles Kendell, MPA, chief of staff at the Kentucky Health Department, accepted the award on behalf of Dr. Shepherd, who was unable to attend the ASTHO meeting. NewPublicHealth caught up with Kendall to get his take on Kentucky’s role in catalyzing a national movement around healthier babies.
NewPublicHealth: Tell us about the award Dr. Shepherd received and what it was for.
Kendell: The award today was given by David Lakey as President of ASTHO for the last year. The Presidential Meritorious Service Award is given at the ASTHO president’s discretion for those he feels have contributed the most to the President’s Challenge that he or she has championed for the year. This year, he awarded it Dr. Ruth Shepherd, who was one of the early advocates for doing something about the prematurity birth rates in the country.
Dr. Shepherd has long championed that concern, and it was through her efforts that much of the initial data and advocacy and publicity about the issue became apparent to a lot of people. Through the connection of Dr. Shepherd to David Lakey, he was able to put a voice and a voice to the issue through his presidency. It’s really taken off from there, and connected with an awful lot of people.
NPH: What did the data Dr. Shepherd uncovered show?
What can happen when local partners collaborate to improve community health? In Austin, Texas, one such collaboration between the local YMCA, child safety advocacy group SafeKids Austin, Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas and local elementary schools, has resulted in Project SAFE (Swimming, Aquatics, Fitness Education). The project, a free, two-week water safety and physical activity program for over 3,000 first-graders, includes an introduction to the Y, and its sliding scale fees for the kids and their families, many of whom are from underserved neighborhoods. About 20 percent of the families of kids in the project program returned to the Y facilities after their kids completed the class.We took a detour while in Austin for the ASTHO Annual Meeting to learn more about the Austin YMCA’s programs.
Not all the kids are swimmers by the end of the sessions, but most are comfortable in the water, can float on their back, know the importance of life jackets, recognize a swimmer in trouble and know “it’s not safe to run at the pool,” chime a group that has just finished up a morning lesson. That knowledge can be lifesaving, says Bret Kiester, executive director of the Hays Communities YMCA, one of the participating Y’s hosting the classes.
“Drowning is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for kids under fourteen, and many of these kids have no regular access to pools or the beach,” Kiester. On vacation, Kiester says, families may visit lakes, rivers and pools—and having no familiarity with water is often how accidents happen.
This summer, Paul Kuehnert, MS, RN, joined the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) as senior program officer and director of the Foundation’s Public Health Team. For nearly 20 years, Kuehnert has provided executive leadership to private and governmental organizations to build and improve systems to address complex health and human services needs. As the county health officer and executive director for health for Kane County, Ill, he led public-private partnerships, integrated planning with transportation, land use, parks and recreation and other diverse sectors, and a comprehensive wellness program for government workers that resulted in demonstrable improvements to the health of employees – as well as marked cost savings [watch an RWJF Public Health in Action video profile of Kuehnert].
NewPublicHealth caught up with Paul Kuehnert during the National Association of County and City Health Officials Annual Meeting this week to talk about the future of public health, and what his decades of leadership in government and private organizations to improve health has taught him.
NewPublicHealth: You were a health director at a time of great change in public health, and that includes massive budget cuts and incredibly rising rates of chronic disease, all creating a very challenging environment. How did that shape your approach to leadership at Kane County and how do you think it will inform what you’ll now be doing in your position?
Paul Kuehnert: I think we’re living through a time that there’s this incredible convergence of the recession, the epidemic of chronic diseases and other situations that all present challenges for public health. As a local public health leader, the key thing was to really develop a strategic focus and to find ways to engage policymakers and other community leaders and partners. That was and is so critical because I think what we have to do in these times is really sort out what it is that public health, and in particular, governmental public health really has to do in order to meet these challenges. And, what is it that other partners can do or, in fact, may do better than governmental public health, which has to be an excellent steward of the public resources. Governmental public health has to be really well versed in what the evidence is for the kinds of things that we’re doing, and be mindful of being very accountable and very transparent in the community as relatively scarce dollars are used to provide services to the community.
Those are the issues that were key for me when I was a local health director, and I think what that does for me in my new position at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is that it has really grounded me in the reality that these are very different and very difficult times for public health. So, I would say the same things that were true for me as a local health director really have to be true for Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as well. We need to be strategic, we need to be focused, we need to engage policymakers and stakeholders in our work and we need to be very transparent about what we’re doing. So, I feel like my recent experience, in the trenches really provides a grounding for me in this new position.
NPH: Partnerships are critical to the future of public health and health departments. What partnerships did you develop or advance that were most critical to the success of public health endeavors in Kane County?