State Public Health and Public Health Heroes

Oct 26, 2011, 7:52 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

Cooper Susan Cooper Awarded ASTHO Presidential Meritorious Service Award

Last week, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) released the latest iteration of the Profile of State Public Health, with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, at their Annual Meeting. The meeting also offered a chance to recognize public health heroes from the field.

The Profile of State Public Health provides a snapshot of state public health agencies and the contributions they make to the health of the nation.

Some of the key findings include:

  • State health agencies continue to connect people with access to personal health services. For example, 84 percent of agencies support health disparities or minority health initiatives and about 75 percent provide direct support for primary care providers.
  • State health agencies are prioritizing prevention. The vast majority offer tobacco prevention and control services (88 percent), HIV prevention programs (84 percent) and injury prevention programs (80 percent).
  • Almost three-quarters of state health agencies (72 percent) plan to pursue public health accreditation.
  • The state and territorial health agency workforce includes over 100,000 full-time employees.
  • The average number of vacant positions at state health agencies is 288. Presumably due to budget cuts and hiring freezes, state health agencies are only recruiting for 15 percent of these positions.

The report is designed to enable public officials and policy-makers to make well-informed decisions to strengthen America’s public health system.

In addition to shining a spotlight on the contributions of state and territorial health agencies as a whole, state projects and individuals that have helped improve the lives and health of Americans were also highlighted and recognized for their efforts with awards at the ASTHO Annual Meeting.

The following state programs received Vision Awards to recognize health department programs and initiatives that use a creative approach to address public health needs. And the winners are…

  • Washington State—Universal Childhood Vaccine Program is a public/private partnership that has ensured continued universal access to vaccines for all children, despite a loss of state funds.
  • Texas—Every Ounce Counts is the first known campaign that sends the message that any amount of breastfeeding is worth the effort.
  • New York—A collaborative approach to effective administration of federal and other existing funding allowed for handling of federal funds by a specially set-up nonprofit, and created a partnership that was able to manage the project faster and better than under standard state systems.
  • Texas—H1N1 Pandemic Influenza Antiviral Distribution Initiative is a public/private partnership to distribute antiviral medications during the H1N1 pandemic through the private pharmacy network and the public community health center network.

A number of individuals were also honored for their service to the public health field. Those awarded include:

  • Paul Halverson, DrPH, Director of the Arkansas Department of Health and Arkansas State Health Officer received the His tenure as ASTHO President led through the organization through a change in administration as well as H1N1. His work on accreditation and other initiatives was “always constantly moving that needle forward.”
  • Arvy Smith, Deputy Health Officer in North Dakota—Smith has almost 28 years of experience in state government, including as a management and fiscal analyst for the North Dakota Office of Management and Budget. Terry Dwelle, North Dakota State Health Officer, presented the award and said, She has been involved in every major decision in this health department for 10 years.” In Smith’s speech, she expressed her appreciation, “I want to thank everyone who’s welcomed me in with my non-public health background. I’ve learned so much under their leadership.”
  • Kaye Bender, PhD, RN, FAAN, President and CEO of the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB)—Dr. Bender was awarded the National Excellence in Public Health Award. “Her energy, enthusiasm and experience coupled with her passion and drive to improve public health department performance make Dr. Bender the ideal person to lead PHAB,” said Dr. Halverson, who presented the award.
  • Lawrence S. Sturman, MD, PhD, Director of the New York State Health Department Wadsworth Center Public Health Laboratory, received the State Excellence in Public Health Award. Under Dr. Sturman’s directorship, the number of conditions in the state’s newborn screening program increased from seven to 47.
  • Eduardo Sanchez, MD, MPH, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas received the ASTHO Alumni Award. Dr. Sanchez is a former Texas Commissioner of Health. “Every single day I live and breathe public health. I bring a public health sensibility to my job,” said Dr. Sanchez in a video acceptance of the award. “What you [health officers] do is so underappreciated. I’m really grateful for the award, but more imp I’m grateful for what you do every single day to improve health in your states.”
  • Susan Cooper, MSN, RN, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health the first nurse ever to serve as commissioner for Tennessee, was recognized with the Presidential Meritorious Service Award. "You are not just colleagues, you are a family and I will take you with me wherever I go," said Cooper.
  • C. Earl Hunter, Commissioner of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, also received the Meritorious Service Award. "I stumbled into public health. It’s sad to see so many people who don’t appreciate public health and understand the sacrifices people make every day," said Hunter. "When I get on the outside, I swear I will do everything I can to spread the word."

>>Read the rest of the ASTHO Annual Meeting coverage on NewPublicHealth.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.