After 17 years with the Health Department, you were promoted in October to assistant director and became the first nurse to reach this level of leadership. What perspective do you bring to the role, and what areas do you want to focus on?
I definitely have that strong maternal/child health background. I started out in case management, providing direct services to moms and babies. That’s definitely a passion that I have of continuing that and the home visitation and (Women, Infants and Children) services that we have, and then also building upon that. We want to make sure that those young families are connected to resources, that children have access and moms have access to the care that they need to have a better start, which is truly at the heart of public health of getting them further upstream before they get to school and have delays or they get to school and have health needs that were not met simply because they weren’t connected. I’m excited to represent not only our community but also the nurses within our department.
Of course, public health is hyperfocused on COVID-19. Officials say a new variant, omicron, has spread into the U.S. How should people protect themselves, and why are we seeing variants pop up?
First of all, if you aren’t vaccinated, get vaccinated, and then for those that are eligible for the booster to go ahead and get that. We still encourage those same practices of knowing the group that you are with. If it’s going to be a larger gathering, to take measures as we did last year of being outside or distancing and not participating in things that you feel like are more of a risk. Replication is just the nature of viruses.
Greene County is behind the state and country in the vaccination percentage of the eligible population, currently at 49%. Is the 70% vaccination goal set by the Health Department still attainable?
We’re certainly striving and hopeful for that. But we are at that point that it is going to, I think, take some creativity to reach those folks – finding those ways with the same goal, but a different messaging. What would touch someone else might not impact another person. Everybody knows somebody that’s had COVID and has that personal story. We’re going to have to lean on those folks, encouraging that testimonial besides just public health. We’re still offering our mass vaccination site and still encouraging any adult that has not received their vaccine or booster to come and get that. Also, when children 5 to 11 became eligible, we started promoting for them to also receive their vaccine. We have talked about moving back to some outreach events in the next couple of months. That would be an opportunity to reach somebody that wouldn’t come to the clinic that we might be able to reach them at their school or workplace or church. For everyone that was receiving first or second doses, they were able and eligible to get a $50 gift certificate, and we just launched that (Nov. 30) at our mass vaccine site.
The past 20 months have been relentless with change and uncertainty. What are some concerns for the impact on individuals?
From our front-line health care workers to folks that just have never really had a break during this, and certainly families and kids, I think mental health has to be the No. 1 concern. Everyone needs to be mindful of that, whether that be from isolation that this has created to anxiety and tension, and just frustration of the ongoing. It has been a long process, and really, we don’t have a definite end to this. Having awareness for your co-workers, your neighbors, friends, checking on people if you notice changes within someone, it’s OK to speak and connect people to resources. (Employers) having employee assistance programs or some way that they can either talk to a counselor or have time to seek help for mental health and also encouraging an atmosphere within their culture and workplace that is supportive.
What leadership lessons did you learn through the pandemic that you’ll use in this new role?
Taking those chances. Yes, you’re going to make mistakes, and there will be failures, but I think you grow and you help your team to grow in doing that and making those sometimes hard decisions. That was a lot of what happened in COVID, not having a lot of time to sit around and work through – more or less just making that decision and going with it and owning it. That helps us to be better decision makers.
Rinda Davis can be reached at email@example.com
Read the profiles of this year's honorees.