Category Archives: Illinois (IL) ENC

Jul 12 2012

Paul Kuehnert: NewPublicHealth Q&A

Paul Kuehnert Paul Kuehnert, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

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?

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