What is your current health care position? What are your responsibilities in this position?
I am the Emergency Preparedness Program manager with the Communicable Disease Control Services Division of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health. I manage a staff of Emergency Response planners. Our primary role is to plan for and develop emergency operations plans and procedures. Our main focus is planning for bioterrorism attacks and dangerous disease outbreaks (for example: intentional releases of agents like anthrax, tularemia, the plague, smallpox, etc.). These agents can be weaponized and used against the public to cause wide-spread fatalities.
We plan to mitigate these attacks as well as exercise our plans on how to dispense mass amounts of medical countermeasures to the public to prevent the disease and/or death. We also plan for additional hazards, such as natural, chemical, radiological, and nuclear incidents. We partner with local, state, federal, private, public, and volunteer agencies who may assist us during a response. We also train and conduct disaster response exercises with them to ensure familiarization with our protocols and the Incident Command System.
How do you feel you are able to make a difference in this position?
I feel that I and my staff make an impactful difference simply through educating and informing the county government departments as a whole and educating the public. Teaching and training people on what they need to know and how they should respond and the services we can offer can be the deciding factor between life and death sometimes. It also can determine the resilience level of an individual, a family, and the entire community.
Health care is a team sport. Tell us about your team and how they help you succeed.
While we are not a team of health care workers in the traditional sense, we see everyone as our patient. A public health emergency has the capability to affect each of us, no matter the race, economic or social status, or our profession. My staff helps me to succeed by their diligence in their various areas of expertise. They each are passionate about their roles and responsibilities and they are consistently going above and beyond their normal duties to ensure the most current information and practices are disseminated to all.
COVID-19 has disrupted all of our work and lives. How has it disrupted your work, and how are you adapting?
A pandemic is what our team is designed for! However, it has caused us to re-think the way we now have to consider emergency response operations and protocols, particularly because there is no vaccine or other medication to counter it; and it’s communicable. We have had to brainstorm internally as well as with regional partners to consider nonpharmaceutical mitigation measures that we may not have had to think about before and how these measures must be incorporated into EVERY area of our lives. A big challenge is that public health has to consider every person and every function of everyday life; and every situation and circumstance does not fit under one umbrella.
Mentors are crucial to the development of a successful professional. Tell us about a mentor and how that person guided you.
One of my many mentors is a former boss. He shared with me some of the same challenges that he had experienced throughout his career, similarities that have extended beyond just working in the same profession. The most important key factor that I have found, and I want to continue to mimic him in, is the fact that he took the time to listen to my concerns and then did something! He also offered solutions and recommendations when I may not have been going in the direction that I needed to be going in. He wanted to see his staff succeed, so he encouraged us, he made sure to offer recognition and appreciation to whom it was due. I do my best to pattern my management style after what I have learned (and am still learning) from him.
Do you have a previous position that helped prepare you for this work? If so, tell us about that.
Before I became an Emergency Response planner and ultimately the manager, I was in emergency communications. I have been in some form of emergency response for over 20 years. I was a full-time (and currently still a part-time) emergency 9-1-1 police dispatcher. Emergency communications has taught me that everyone has to be considered the same. Just like in public health, it doesn’t matter what our race, economic, social, religious, sexual preference or status is; when a person dials that number, they are in need of HELP! And I’ve taken calls from the richest person to the person who may be living on the street, and it is my duty to make sure that I treat them all the same in order to get them the help that they need. Police dispatching has also prepared me for my current role because I have been able to see and understand that not everyone is educated or has an awareness of the importance of knowing what they can do, as an individual, to help prevent life-altering situations in their lives. That is why I am passionate about education and getting the proper information to the masses.
Tell us about your experiences as a student that prepared you for this work.
As an emergency dispatcher, I was attending a Hazardous Materials Awareness course for dispatchers at the police academy. The instructor, at that time, was an Emergency Management specialist who was also a former police dispatcher. This was the first time that I heard of Emergency Management and became curious about the profession. I was also a volunteer with the St. Louis Chapter of the American Red Cross Disaster Services and came across the School for Public Health at St. Louis University. They had a graduate program to obtain a certificate in Biosecurity and Disaster Preparedness.
So, I enrolled there with the expectation of only completing the 15-credit-hour graduate certificate. As I was completing my courses, I soon realized the benefits of completing the entire Master’s program, so that is what I did; and it has indeed prepared me for exactly what I do now! As a graduate student, the courses opened up my eyes to the potential public health related disasters and emergencies that can happen. And who would have thought? My experience, education, and training has prepared me for exactly this; and now I will have an even better understanding, respect, and appreciation for those in my profession, health care, emergency responders, and many others. This pandemic has indeed showed us how we all are connected and must work together and rely on one another.
Missouri voters have an opportunity to expand Medicaid with Amendment 2 on the August 4 ballot. Expand Medicaid in Missouri – yes or no? Why or why not?
Absolutely! Medicaid can help with providing many services to those who are in serious need of health care or other services and who can’t afford health insurance or don’t have it. Medicaid expansion will also lessen the uninsured rate so that individuals and families can have the opportunity to receive quality health care.
Is there anything about your personal life that you would like to share with the public celebrating your award?
Yes. I am truly thankful, blessed, and honored, not only for this award, but simply for life. I must say, I know, that it is God which has empowered me to be able to do anything; that it is, alone, by His might, wisdom, and strength and not my own.
Is there anything else you would like to add about health care or your work?
Yes. I would like to encourage everyone to take the time to research and educate yourselves on the programs and services that your local public health departments have to offer, participate in disaster response exercises and events being offered, and take heed to the recommendations and information concerning health care and public health related emergencies. Having a vast knowledge and understanding of how you can do your part, and sometimes it may be a sacrifice or “inconvenient”, but it can certainly help mitigate or reduce the effects that a health concern can have on your own life or the life of someone else.