133: ASTHO’s 80th Anniversary Approaches

Mike Fraser, ASTHO’s CEO, reflects on ASTHO’s history as the organization prepares to celebrate 80 years on March 23rd; Heidi Westermann, ASTHO’s Director of Public Health Systems and Planning, says ASTHO is helping Guam identify and build...

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Mike Fraser, ASTHO’s CEO, reflects on ASTHO’s history as the organization prepares to celebrate 80 years on March 23rd; Heidi Westermann, ASTHO’s Director of Public Health Systems and Planning, says ASTHO is helping Guam identify and build strong partnerships across government agencies; and Dr. Bruce Perry, a best-selling author and clinician, prepares to discuss ways to revitalize the public health workforce during a new Insight and Inspiration event scheduled for March 23rd.

ASTHO History Timeline

ASTHO Blog Article: Interagency Collaboration to Improve Business Processes in the U.S. Virgin Islands

ASTHO E-Learning: Quality Improvement Learning Series / Serie de aprendizaje de mejora de la calidad

ASTHO E-Learning: Introduction to Process Improvement

ASTHO Event: Insight and Inspiration – Monthly Conversations for Public Health Leaders in the Era of COVID-19

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Tuesday, March 8th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

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


Growing concern over public health epidemics at the end of the 1800s led 19 health officials to meet in Washington, D.C. to form the National Conference of State Boards of Health in 1884. The event helped pave the way for ASTHO's founding in 1942. On March 23rd, the organization will celebrate its 80th anniversary. CEO Mike Fraser reflects on the past as a guide to the future in today's morning conversation.

ASTHO's 80th anniversary is coming up on March 23rd. What does this moment mean to you?


Well, our 80th anniversary, of course, is a significant milestone. I was actually here for our 75th as well, we had a huge party. In the time of COVID, we're not able to do that; so we're just acknowledging 80 years of our history serving as a partner, an advocate, and a resource for state and territorial health officials.

A lot's changed in 80 years, obviously, but a lot stays the same, and the thing that stays the same for ASTHO is the community of public health leaders that we support. So, while state health officials change—unfortunately, sometimes real quickly—we at ASTHO are here for all of them and want to mark this 80th anniversary in the way that it should be, which is to celebrate ASTHO and what we've been able to do together.


I know that you always like to look forward, but can you tell us how your thinking about the future of ASTHO is informed by its past?


When you go back to the history of ASTHO—it's actually longer than 80 years ago, it was back in the 1860s when groups of health officials got together to deal with disease outbreaks, but formally we've been around 80 years, you know—our history of community, of advocacy, of supporting leaders is really that thread—past, present, and future—and I think it really who we are. And what we do is clearer now than ever because of COVID.

But certainly lots of public health emergencies have happened, lots of public health needs to happen, and ASTHO's here for the longt erm.


I wanted to ask you about the impact of COVID on the organization and its future. Do you see changes in store for the organization as a result of what we've gone through the last two years?


There've been a lot of changes as a result of COVID—obviously, everywhere in health departments, and our families, everywhere. For ASTHO, COVID meant a lot of different things.

One is it really highlighted the importance of public health in a way that we as public health advocates hadn't been able to do to date. It made public health visible; some people love it, some people hate it, but it made public health visible. And that's been a big goal at ASTHO.

It also—in conjunction with COVID, but also in the inequities of COVID, but also the George Floyd murder happening in this COVID time—really highlighted our emphasis on equity and racism as a public health issue. And that is going to evolve into the future as well.

And our organization has grown significantly due to COVID. We've needed more staff to help support the work of members to get questions answered, to provide technical assistance and capacity building.

And, as the pandemic wanes, we will be looking at other ways that we can continue to serve members. There's a lot for the future that's coming out of this.


You were at ASTHO five years ago. Let's think about ASTHO in another five years—where do you think the organization will be then?


Well, hopefully we won't be responding to another pandemic in five years—but the way things are going, I'm not going to predict that.

I think our core will always be supporting state and territorial health leaders. And so, that'll stay the same: getting to know our members, getting to know their needs, getting to know their senior leadership teams. But I see in five years our influence growing as a result of the impact we've had in supporting members through COVID and the partnerships we've developed. We've got a much bigger stage now and megaphone now, I think, for the work of state and territorial public health. We've got a much bigger staff.

And I think in five years, we'll also be able to really look back at the COVID experience and—with all these new investments, and all these new staff, and all the changes that are happening with data modernization and data systems improvement, and workforce expansion—I think we'll look back and be able to say we were a part of that. And that's significant for me as a leader, and it's significant for our organization and our staff.


Read more about ASTHO's fascinating history in a narrative timeline on the organization's new website. There's a link in the show notes.


ASTHO is working with government and public health officials in Guam. They're focused on ways to help improve hiring and procurement processes as part of the local COVID-19 response. Heidi Westermann is ASTHO's director of public health systems and planning. She says the effort also includes assistance building stronger partnerships.


So in public health practice, we talk about partnerships all the time. It's actually a foundational public health service. National frameworks tell us the importance of health departments partnering with other government agencies with community partners, nonprofits, hospitals, other healthcare sectors, transportation, housing—these types of partnerships are bread and butter for public health.

But I think it's a little under the radar that we need to talk about intergovernment partnerships, right? How are we working with those human resource folks, or the budget and management office, and the fiscal side of government, to improve intergovernment process, not just government-to-community and community-to-government, but within the government.



Finally today, the public health workforce is the topic of a new Insight and Inspiration event planned for later this month. Dr. Bruce Perry, an author, researcher, and clinician, will address the pandemic's impact on public health professionals and ways to help revitalize teams and organizations.

The free online event is set for Wednesday, March 23rd, at 4:00 PM Eastern time. Register using the link in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

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

Heidi Westermann MPH

Director, Performance Improvement, ASTHO