260: ASTHO’s Impact on Public Health

ASTHO CEO Mike Fraser previews his State of ASTHO address to members meeting this week in Atlanta; Mark Miller, Vice President of Communications for the de Beaumont Foundation, says when it comes to restoring trust in public health, there are no...

Spotify podcast player badge
Apple Podcasts podcast player badge
Amazon Music podcast player badge
Google Podcasts podcast player badge

ASTHO CEO Mike Fraser previews his State of ASTHO address to members meeting this week in Atlanta; Mark Miller, Vice President of Communications for the de Beaumont Foundation, says when it comes to restoring trust in public health, there are no shortcuts; and you can sign up to receive ASTHO’s Public Health Weekly newsletter.

STAT News: Restoring trust in public health – There are no shortcuts

Amazon: Talking Health – A New Way to Communicate About Public Health

ASTHO Public Health Weekly newsletter


ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Monday, September 12th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

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



It's cliché to say the state of ASTHO is strong, but it is. We're actually in the best financial position we've ever been in. We're the largest we've ever been, in terms of staff and resources. And I think, most importantly, we're at a very significant point of influence now, which is folks wanna hear from state health leaders, folks know who their health official is, folks know what public health does, and that's the position that we want ASTHO to be in


ASTHO CEO Mike Fraser with a preview of his state of ASTHO address to members meeting this week in Atlanta. The agenda includes the installation of a new board president and other officers—something that hasn't happened since Pennsylvania's Dr. Rachel Levine left the presidency early in her term to serve in the Biden administration.

Even though it's been a while, Fraser says the transition process is a familiar one.


We've done it. The issue was that Dr. Levine assumed the presidency and then was quickly whisked the way to Washington for her confirmation as assistant secretary. And the way our bylaws worked, the president-elect assumes that uncompleted term. So, it gave Nirav you know, an extra, whatever it was nine months, eight months, which felt like forever in the middle of a pandemic.

But I think we know how to do it. We've had our annual meetings virtually and they worked out very successfully, in fact. So, I think we've got it going. We're practiced.


While together in Atlanta, Fraser adds members will discuss ASTHO's policy regarding firearms and whether an update is in order.


Every day I wake up, I read the news and I see another shooting. I see another three people, 10 people, 12 people killed, and you know, it just makes me wonder what more can we be doing? What more should we be doing? What more do we have to be doing?


Fraser says the agenda also includes time to explore the CDC's reorganization plans.


We don't, as ASTHO, want to get into, you know, boxes and lines on organizational charts, just like we don't want the CDC to tell a state health department how to organize itself. You know, that's not our role. But our role is to share what are some those things that can improve the very special relationship between states and CDC.


Public health professionals who've been part of the Diverse Executives Leading in Public Health program are attending the meetings. Fraser says the program is training the next generation of public health leaders.


So, when I get that call that says, "Hey, Mike, I'm looking for a new deputy secretary, a new assistant secretary, and I'd really like them to be a member of an unrepresented group. Who do you have in your queue?" We'll have these cohorts of leaders ready to go to fill those positions and meet that need. So, I'm really excited. It's a program that's near and dear to my heart.



Tomorrow, a conversation with ASTHO president Dr. Nirav Shah as he makes way for president-elect Dr. Anne Zink to move into the position. We hear from her on Wednesday. These are two interviews you don't want to miss.


When it comes to restoring trust in public health, it'll take time to recover from the damage done during the pandemic. That's according to Mark Miller, vice president of communications for the de Beaumont foundation and co-author of an article about trust published in STAT News.


This was a very difficult situation, if not impossible to deal with. So, public health agencies are underfunded, understaffed, and were not prepared to speak to the public every day. They didn't have training in crisis communications. Some of them had not given regular press conferences, let alone national press conferences. So, it was a lot to deal with all at once. And I think that it shows the need to invest in public health, as well as investing in the strategic skills that agencies need.


Besides time, Miller says fixing the problem will demand focus.


There are a lot of obstacles that aren't going away anytime soon, including political polarization and misinformation, and the pandemic response has led to some entrenched beliefs and feelings that will need to be overcome. But I also think this is the time to build those relationships because it takes time to build trust and you can lose it very quickly if you don't do the right thing.


Having had time to think about the lessons learned, Miller says it's possible for public health to address the communications challenge.


I think some of it is the basics of communications, about being consistent, being clear. And I think that a lot of the communication has been confusing, hasn't been coordinated among different agencies or even within agencies.

And it also has changed over time. There's reasons that, with a new virus, new information is gonna change over time. But it's important to say, "This is what we know, this is what we don't know, and this is what we're gonna let you know as we learn more." And I think there was a lack of, in some cases, humility of acknowledging what people don't know.


Miller also is one of five who started work on a book about public health communication before the pandemic. It's written and available now. You can get your copy of Talking Health: A New Way to Communicate about Public Health using the link in the show notes.


Finally today, a reminder about ASTHO's Public Health Weekly newsletter, each one covering in detail the stories we report on the newscast and much more. You can sign up now 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.

Mark Miller

Vice President of Communications, de Beaumont Foundation