144: ASTHO Turns 80 Today

Dr. Leah Devlin, former ASTHO president and North Carolina state health official, reflects on ASTHO’s support for state and territorial public health leaders and the organization’s 80th anniversary celebrated today; Dr. Jamie Pina, ASTHO’s Vice...

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Dr. Leah Devlin, former ASTHO president and North Carolina state health official, reflects on ASTHO’s support for state and territorial public health leaders and the organization’s 80th anniversary celebrated today; Dr. Jamie Pina, ASTHO’s Vice President of Public Health, Data Modernization, and Informatics, says public health had a higher profile at this year’s annual HIMMS Global Health Conference; ASTHO CEO Mike Fraser writes about harassment of public health officials in a new article for the American Journal of Public Health; and Dr. Bruce Perry headlines ASTHO’s first Insight and Inspiration event of the new year this afternoon at 4 p.m. eastern time.

ASTHO Webpage: Our History

American Journal of Public Health: Harassment of Health Officials – A Significant Threat

ASTHO Insight and Inspiration Series: Dr. Bruce Perry

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

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


We're celebrating a birthday today! ASTHO turns 80 years old.

A lot has changed since 1942. We're thinking about that with one of ASTHO's former presidents. She gets us started with her own introduction. It's our morning conversation.


I'm Leah Devlin. I'm currently faculty at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, but it was an honor to serve from 2001 to 2009 as the state health official for North Carolina. I can't imagine doing that without the support of ASTHO, the national association that we all count on every day when we're in these roles. And I guess I should stop and say, happy birthday, ASTHO, on your 80th!


What a great way to start this conversation. How has asked ASTHO evolved since you were president?


So like any great organization, ASTHO just keeps getting better and better. We have great leadership in Mike Fraser, and some of my colleagues from North Carolina, they're doing a super job—Danny Staley and Marcus Plescia—and very proud of the work that they do.

They have built out the committee work; we have reached into broader issues—examples might be some of the environmental issues and climate change. So, building out the work in committees and involving the membership in developing policy statements and advocacy statements has been really, really important.

I do think that they have deepened their work in advocacy and certainly have been the go-to organization for the state health officials and alums—like me—around the pandemic, is just one example.

They provide timely information, they have a stronger newsletter, just really good source of information to help us all be current.


How important is it to have an organization like ASTHO supporting public health professionals across the states and territories?


Well, having an organization like ASTHO to support the state health officials across the country is really essential because the issues are broad, they're complex. They're important to the fabric of life and the community. The state health officials are on the dime politically as well as having the science, and ASTHO helps with both of those.

And they provide the leadership opportunities for state health officials so that we can fulfill our jobs—and as we've seen in the pandemic—often in areas of high risk, high concern, and high stress, both for the public and for the system.


Thinking about all that has happened in public health over the last two years during this pandemic, could you imagine doing your work as a health official today without having ASTHO by your side?


I think if I was serving during this pandemic without ASTHO, I would feel like a ship at sea. The states were all doing different things, they were under different constraints politically. There was national distrust of the public health system at the federal level.

So, we relied a lot on ASTHO to make sure that we had timely, complete, accurate information, that we were sharing best practices, that we could support each other. There were threats on state health officials and just providing moral support was an important role that ASTHO played. And advocating, again, for the public health system and for the integrity of the work that these health officials were doing was really vitally important.


Dr. Devlin, thanks for celebrating ASTHO's 80th anniversary with us.


Well, thank you for the opportunity as an alum. That's one other thing that's changed is they have provided a wonderful opportunity for alumni to engage in the ongoing work of ASTHO.



Public health had a higher profile at this year's annual HIMMS Global Health Conference.

Dr. Jamie Pina is ASTHO's vice president of public health data modernization and informatics. He says the field was well-represented at the meeting in Orlando last week.


The pandemic gave everyone the opportunity to reflect on the intersection of the broader health IT market and the way that public health interoperates with it.

Public health receives this data from many sources. Many of those come from information systems that are developed, managed, and sold through the commercial sector. And I think the organizers of the HIMMS conference, as well as those in those development positions, are recognizing that greater collaboration with public health can lead to both better outcomes and more usable systems, and also easier interoperability in terms of data exchange and information exchange.



Also, ASTHO CEO Mike Fraser writes about harassment of public health officials in a new article for the American Journal of Public Health. While he says controversy and criticisms are nothing new, what officials experienced during the early days of the pandemic was quote, "Far more widespread, far better organized, and much more violent than anything experienced before."

You can read the full article using the link in the show notes.


Finally today, the moral injury suffered by the public health workforce during the pandemic is the topic of this afternoon's insight and inspiration event with Dr. Bruce Perry. He writes books, teaches, and is meeting with you today at 4:00 PM Eastern time. Sign up now using the link in the show notes.


Before we go, we want to remind you to leave us a rating and a review—they help raise our profile, and that makes it easier for new listeners to find us online. Also, if you follow the show, you'll never miss a single report. You can do all of this on the channel you're listening to right now.


That'll do it for today's newscast. We're taking a few days off, but we're back next Tuesday, March 29th with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Happy 80th birthday, ASTHO.

Leah Devlin DDS MPH

Professor of the Practice, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

Jamie Pina PhD MSPH

Vice President, Public Health Data Modernization, ASTHO