We are amid the year 2021 and are still being ravaged by the pandemic of COVID-19. Public health is standing firm, but as we look back over the last year and look towards the future, the words Reflect-Renew-Rebuild come to mind. In these days our public health profession is so needed and far too often, so misunderstood. But throughout Ohio, public health professionals answered the call. We reassigned our teams and worked countless hours. We joined together to keep our communities as safe as possible. We rolled up our sleeves to give and receive vaccines.
Despite the demands of our day-to-day work, OPHA continued to care, continued to speak, and continued to:
Build understanding for Racism as a Public Health Issue, and the importance of Health and Equity in All Policies
Speak out against legislation that attempts to eliminate vaccine mandates
Host a virtual recognition for OPHA members featuring APHA Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin
Promote the value of investing in our public health infrastructure
Help strengthen the capacity of our public health workforce.
As the inclusive voice of public health in Ohio, OPHA can continue to play a leading role in these critical initiatives, but we can only do so with your help. We need you! Get involved on a committee or in a section, help grow the membership and continue to pay your dues. Our strength is in our numbers and our professional diversity.
Before closing, I want to thank David Maywhoor for his unwavering and steadfast leadership as our executive director for the last three years. David has decided to retire from his current role but will continue to assist us with our dental equity initiative. Thank you to Alexandria Jones as immediate past president and her continued guidance as we make decisions for OPHA.
For our future, Debbie Wright has taken on expanded responsibilities as our operations coordinator. Angela DeJulius is joining us as the president-elect, and Cheryl Davis has joined our team on an interim basis to assist with our governance and strategic issues.
As the new OPHA President I know that we will only survive together as a team. We are a collective voice for public health in Ohio. We all want better health for all Ohioans. Join us in our advocacy and education efforts for the future of our health.
I have no words to describe the year 2020 thus far. If no one has told you lately, thank you so much for all your hard work and dedication to protecting the public’s health during this uncertain time. Prior to the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the US and Ohio, our public health system was working behind the scenes to ensure that we’re keeping our communities as safe as possible. This response has challenged our capacity and highlighted how poorly funded our public health infrastructure is in Ohio. Yet, our numerous public health officials have responded and continue to respond to this threat. Thank you to my public health colleagues who are working diligently to keep day to day services available and public health protections in place for our communities and most vulnerable populations. I’m so very proud to be a part of public health in Ohio and to have the opportunity to lead the Ohio Public Health Association with our executive board and governing council.
As I’m writing this, the Kentucky grand jury just announced the charges that will be brought forth in the murder of Breonna Taylor. Racism is a public health crisis. We in public health see the impacts of structural and institutional racism daily. Whether it’s the fact that our black babies and black mothers die at more than twice the rate as their white counterparts; or the 1980’s crack cocaine epidemic where our black brothers and sisters saw long prison sentences and now in the present day with the predominantly white users we are offering rehab and treatment in lieu of mass incarceration. Your governing council is in the process of approving a Racism is A Public Health Crisis statement and is committed to the hard work that comes with making this declaration. The first action step will be to have an independent review of all internal policies and procedures. We must ensure our own house in order to be successful in our external advocacy. I will be providing updates on this work in the upcoming President’s messages to ensure accountability to our members as we move through this process.
Thank you again for your continued membership, support and commitment to OPHA. Now more than ever we must continue our mission to be the inclusive voice of public health in Ohio.
For this call, papers can cover a range of issues including, but not limited to, the following: Discrimination and health Institutional racism and health Cultural racism and health Intersectional racism and health Racism across the life course Residential segregation and other neighborhood factors and health Social justice Environmental justice Policy approaches to addressing racism Approaches to achieve health equity Novel strategies to address racism and resulting health inequities, including multilevel interventions, solution-based strategies, models of care, novel academic/community partnerships, and community-based collaborations Educational strategies to better teach students about racism, its health impact, and what we can do as a public health community to combat racism
We are facing an unprecedented time in the history of our country. Schools, shops, restaurants, bars, and entertainment and leisure facilities are shut down. Our jobs, families and places of worship have been disrupted and our way of life is indefinitely stalled. None of us could have imagined just two months ago that our public health system would be stretched to capacity in response to an invisible and deadly threat. Yet here we are.
I want to share ways in which you as an OPHA member can help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. As an organization with a diverse membership of public health professionals, we are collectively moving in lock step to protect the health of all Ohioans. Unfortunately, there are critical gaps in our system that must be filled in order to ensure our success.
One way to fill the staffing shortages of Ohio’s public health system is by using the Public Health Professional Services (PHPS) program. The PHPS program, administered by OPHA, is a contract employment service which matches Public Health professionals in Ohio with available part-time, temporary, short-term, and/or seasonal positions in the field of Public Health.
Now more than ever, health departments around the state need temporary or part-time help. Meanwhile, many individuals in the Public Health sector are available to contribute their skills and expertise including retirees, part-time employees, nurses, caregivers, communication professionals, community health workers, students working toward full-time employment, and more.
This is how it works:
OPHA will… Recruit and manage a pool of available staffers Serve as the liaison between staffers and prospective placement sites Facilitate contracts and employment logistics
You have the… Skills Knowledge Life experience Organizational familiarity
On another important, yet more concerning note, I want to remind our members that while the COVID- 19 is affecting all of us—our health and our way of life—low-income communities, and communities of color undoubtedly will face added risk. We must now stand by our commitment and mobilize to advocate for policies that address health inequities.
In public health, we know that pre-existing social vulnerabilities only increase in a crisis. Age, coupled with a chronic health condition such as heart disease, diabetes, respiratory problems, high blood pressure etc., are factors known to make the coronavirus deadlier for those infected. So, when low socioeconomic status is added to the mix, you have real potential for increased loss of life and suffering.
During this uncertain time, we must remember the many communities where residents breathe polluted air that lead to the chronic illnesses that make them more vulnerable to the worst impacts of COVID-19.
As many of us stock our pantries with food and supplies, we must remember the many people who live in communities that lack even a single grocery store to find fresh healthy food and may struggle financially to support their families during this difficult time. And we must remember that these social and environmental injustices were here before, they are exacerbated by COVID-19, and must be addressed within the response to this pandemic and thereafter.
As the “inclusive voice for public health,” this means that we must remember to lift the voices of those who are too often marginalized or forgotten. We must redouble our efforts to proactively advocate for policies that reduce health disparities and empower all people to achieve their optimal health. Let’s begin to think about ways in which we can ensure these populations are not lost in the shadows of our statewide COVID-19 testing efforts.
As one OPHA member so eloquently put it… “In this crisis we have an obligation to continue to fight for equity and health equity across this State. We may need to readjust, but it is important that we understand how vulnerable populations are cared for and included during this crisis of COVID-19. The handling of such will be a direct manifestation of all our ills: racism, sexism, classism, etc… This crisis will place people who we want to fight for [even] further behind.”
Lastly, investments in Ohio’s public heath infrastructure is critically needed and long overdue. This current crisis will reveal the vulnerabilities of a neglected public health system, but I am confident we will overcome. That said, this also presents an opportunity for OPHA to help champion efforts to increase funding in our system and properly prepare us for the next public health emergency.
OPHA continues to make significant strides in elevating its profile across the state as the “Inclusive Voice of Public Health in Ohio.” There are any number of reasons for this but most of the credit rightfully goes to you, our dedicated members. Through the active work of the various OPHA sections, committees, volunteers and staff, we are now broadly recognized as a public health leader and as an essential partner to invite to the table when critical public health issues are discussed.
An important aspect of this emerging success is the commitment of OPHA to strengthen the capacity of public health professionals in addressing Ohio’s unmet public health needs. One way we are meeting this strategic goal is through the increasing visibility of our various conferences in Public Health Nursing, Vital Statistics and Combined Public Health. These opportunities to network and share best practices as professionals is invaluable to sustaining an expert and well-trained public health workforce.
Connecting with our partners is also proving an important key to our success. That is why we are excited to provide leadership in the climate resilience and health and equity in all policies statewide coalitions. Additionally, OPHA’s leadership recently approved the development of an overall strategy to improve oral health in Ohio. As dental disease remains one of the most common unmet healthcare needs, an effective strategy will ultimately depend on OPHA’s ability to bring interested stakeholders together to find workable solutions to this difficult and illusive public health problem.
I am truly encouraged by the committed work being done throughout our organization. Whether you are just entering the field of public health, a mid-career professional, a retiree or anything in between, we value the work you do each day to improve the health of all Ohioans and represent our organization in such a positive way.
While OPHA is certainly on a rising trajectory, I believe 2020 will provide even more opportunities for our association to offer statewide leadership and direction. I am also mindful, however, that in order to sustain our momentum it will be through the collective effort of our professional membership.
To that end, I look forward working with each of you as we continue this journey together to be the inclusive voice of public health.
As we enter the holiday season and prepare to ring in the new year, I would like to highlight just a few of OPHA’s significant achievements over the past several months.
In October, OPHA partnered with state Representative Erica Crawley (D-Columbus) to convene a meeting of diverse stakeholders throughout Ohio. It was an important opportunity for our association to show continued leadership in the implementation of the HEiAP legislative initiative. The stakeholders invited to the table represented a cross-section of disciplines aligned with core determinants of health including those from transportation, education, housing, environment and state policy. The dialogue and engagement proved fruitful and OPHA is now viewed as an important leader in statewide policy change. Continue our statewide leadership through Health and Equity in All Policies…Check!
More recently, OPHA staff sat down with leadership from the Ohio Department of Health (including Director Amy Acton) to discuss our association’s strategic priorities. It was important for us to remind ODH that OPHA is the “inclusive voice of public health in Ohio” and that our membership includes a diverse array of public and private sector professionals. ODH was attentive, engaged and receptive to our views on key issues. Both sides agreed to keep the lines of communication open and to work more closely in our mutual efforts to advance the practice of public health in Ohio.
We are also grateful to Franklin County Public Health Commissioner Joe Mazzola for facilitating a special meeting between OPHA leadership and Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association. Dr. Benjamin was in Columbus as a featured speaker during Franklin County Public Health’s Progress of Public Health Conference in October. As the Ohio affiliate of APHA, the meeting provided OPHA with a unique opportunity to discuss common goals and challenges at the national and state levels. Elevate the profile of our association…Check!
OPHA’s Executive Board in August hosted an orientation for Governing Council members. The goal of the orientation was to provide Governing Council with an historical overview of OPHA and how it aligns as an affiliate with APHA, set roles and expectations, solicit buy-in to the organization’s strategic plan, outline their fiduciary responsibilities and provide technical assistance and guidance. The feedback from those who attended the training has been overwhelmingly positive. Actively engage OPHA membership through education, communication, and training…Check!
Finally, this is the time of year that we pause to reflect on the things we are most thankful for. I am honestly grateful to be a part of an organization whose members embody the true spirit of selfless service and who continue to give freely of their time and talents to protect and improve the health of everyone. Here’s wishing you and yours a joyous holiday season and a very Happy New Year.
The 2019 Vital Statistics Conference held in August included presentations on the new Ohio Compliant Driver’s License, the 2020 Census, and Customer Service. Attendees also heard about records preservation, how Health and Equity in All Policies (HEiAP) impacts the community, and data and prevention efforts on Injury in Ohio.
The Shirley M. Hayslett award was presented to Tina Watkins of Perry County for her years of service in Vital Records. Special thanks go to Tunu Kinebrew of the Cincinnati Department of Health, Conference Chair and outgoing Vital Statistics Section Chair. A warm welcome goes to incoming Section Chair, Donna Merriman of Wayne County Health Department.
The Ohio Public Health Resiliency Coalition formed by OPHA has released a resource for addressing the public health impacts of climate change. The document looks the potential adverse outcomes that Ohio communities may face and suggests adaptations public health professionals can make. It was released during the 2018 Public Health Combined Conference. The full release follows.
OPHA is excited about the many opportunities ahead in the new year. One such opportunity is the expansion of our association to include an Epidemiology Section, which was approved at the December Governing Council meeting. I am grateful to the OPHA members who provided their support to create the new Section, with special thanks to Ross Kauffman for spearheading the effort and serving as the inaugural chair. This new section is open to students and professionals alike. Any OPHA member who is interested to join the Epidemiology Section can do so by updating the member profile on the OPHA website (as a reminder, there is no limit to the number of Sections that a member can join!). In addition, we welcome new members to OPHA and the Section. Please help us to spread the word across Ohio about this new and valuable resource for those who work, study, or are interested in epidemiology! In 2019, OPHA will continue to focus on our priorities including health and equity in all policies (HEiAP) and climate resiliency, among others. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you would like to volunteer for these or any of our other efforts or to share any ideas or suggestions you have for OPHA in the new year.
Warmest wishes for your professional and personal well-being in 2019 and beyond,
As I finish my last month as President of your association, I feel a deep gratitude for the privilege of being able to represent Ohio’s talented and dedicated public health professionals. As an association we have stepped forward to lead, and advocate for, initiatives that improve the health of our state and strengthen the public health system.
Some highlights from the past 12 months:
Public Health Nurse’s Role in Emergency/Disaster Shelters white paper was published by the OPHA Public Health Nursing Section. This document provides guidance for public health nurses in general disaster shelters operations.
OPHA’s Climate Resiliency Coalition developed and released their white paper, a resource for use by local public health professionals in their efforts to address the public health impacts of climate change and climate-related weather events in their jurisdictions.
The Ohio Journal of Public Health (OJPH) has been established to publish high-quality, peer reviewed manuscripts that present research, as well as public health and educational practices that are relevant to Ohio. Submissions for the first edition have been received for publishing this fall.
Promoting the adoption of Health and Equity in All Policies (HEiAP) through the release of the OPHA funded Enacting Health and Equity in All Policies: Literature Review and Case Studies report and the introduction of Senate Bill 302, by Senator Tavares, to create the Ohio Health and Equity in All Policies Initiative and the Health and Equity Interagency Team.
Advancing the practice of public health in Ohio through the OPHA Vital Statistics conference, Public Health Nursing Conference, the Combined Public Health Conference, and the Public Policy Institute.
I’d like to thank the Board, Governing Council, our many volunteers, the OPHA staff, and all our members, for their support and contributions to the success of OPHA in this past year!
Natalie DiPietro Mager, our incoming president, will continue to need all of us to continue working to support our association, especially as we continue to work through the transition of executive director staffing. I have full confidence that Natalie will do a great job leading the association forward!