117: ASTHO’s New Strategic Plan

Zarnaaz Bashir, ASTHO’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer, says the organization’s new strategic plan was created during and influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic; Dr. Robert Bourgeois, an occupational and environmental health expert working along the...

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Zarnaaz Bashir, ASTHO’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer, says the organization’s new strategic plan was created during and influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic; Dr. Robert Bourgeois, an occupational and environmental health expert working along the U.S. Gulf Coast, explains how difficult it is to manage pandemic health protocols in a remote work environment, like an off-shore drilling rig; and we look forward to Dr. Anne Zink’s comments about COVID-19’s impact on hospitals during a panel discussion hosted by the Washington Post. Dr. Zink is ASTHO's President-Elect and Alaska's Chief Medical Officer.

ASTHO Blog Article: A New Year, A New Plan

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Friday, February 11th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


ASTHO has a new strategic plan and, like most everything else these days, it's influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Zarnaaz Bashir is ASTHO's deputy chief executive officer. She takes us through the document in today's morning conversation.

What's the focus of the new strategic plan?


We launched our new strategic plan earlier this year after an eight-month development process, and we're really excited about it. The new strategic plan lays out a new set of strategic priorities for ASTHO that reflect where we really need to move the needle in public health, and those are: health and racial equity; workforce development; sustainable infrastructure improvements; data modernization and interoperability; and evidence-based and promising public health practices. And these priorities are really intended to provide direction for ASTHO and be a guide in focusing our work and making more strategic decisions and keeping our organization mission aligned.


ASTHO wrote this plan during the pandemic. How much influence did COVID-19 have on the document?


Oh, it had a great deal of influence. The pandemic shifted the way we view our priorities and their impact, and revealed a number of strengths and gaps that we wanted to address and be responsive to in this new plan; an example of that is workforce development, burnout issues, resilience—and that's one of our five strategic priorities in the plan.

But it was really a combination of issues and events that had the most influence on this plan. It was the pandemic, racial discrimination that's still persistent, changes to the administration, rapid turnover of state and territorial health officials, mixed with so many uncertainties with how the future might unfold. That made it really essential for us to have this updated strategic plan.


Now that you have the plan, what's next in the process? How do you turn it into action?


Well, similar to what we did with our last strategic plan, we want to make sure the plan isn't just some pretty poster that we hang on a conference room wall or a document on our desk that gets lost over time. We want to make sure that this actually gets operationalized.

So, we create dedicated work plans for each of our priorities that outlines specific activities and measures of success to demonstrate whether we've achieved what we set out to do—and that operations plan is in development; and we'll launch that after the first quarter, and do quarterly reporting and check-ins to gather data and monitor how we're progressing with our strategic plan.


Bashir has written a blog article about the plan. You can read it using the link in the show notes.


Managing COVID-19 health protocols in a remote work environment like an off-shore drilling rig sounds very difficult—and it is, according to Dr. Robert Bourgeois, an expert in occupational and environmental health working along the Gulf Coast.


Knowing that we had personnel sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in helicopters, knowing how this spread, knowing how hard it is to work when you're doing heavy labor like on the drill floor wearing a mask and being that close to people and the clip close quarters, we were just almost dumbfounded trying to figure out how we're going to manage this.

So every day, several of the occupational medicine physicians who do this around the world, we would get together and talk about possibilities, things that we were doing at work, things that we didn't think were working well at all; and it was basically a lot of trial and error. And thankfully, most everything we did worked it really, really well, but this has all been a chess game.


Going forward, Dr. Bourgeois says he'd like to see more cooperation at all levels of government, more funding to attract and train the next generation of professionals, and development of a referral database of experts to call when disaster strikes.


Finally today, ASTHO president elect Dr. Anne Zink was the guest late yesterday on a panel considering the impact of COVID-19 on hospitals. Dr. Zink is Alaska's chief medical officer and a practicing emergency room physician. The Washington Post event was held too late to make today's report, but we'll have highlights for you on Monday.


That'll do it for today's newscast.


Be sure to join us first thing Monday morning for more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great weekend.

Robert Bourgeois MD MPH FACOEM

President, American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

Zarnaaz Bashir

Deputy CEO