74: The White House Celebrates Public Health

Several ASTHO members attend a White House event in appreciation of public health workers across the states and territories. ASTHO President Dr. Nirav Shah, ASTHO President-Elect Dr. Anne Zink, California’s Dr. Tomas Aragon, and Dr. LaQuandra...

Several ASTHO members attend a White House event in appreciation of public health workers across the states and territories. ASTHO President Dr. Nirav Shah, ASTHO President-Elect Dr. Anne Zink, California’s Dr. Tomas Aragon, and Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt from Washington, D.C. offer comments to a national audience; Dr. Steven Stack, Commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, says vulnerable populations have a tough time advocating for investments that benefit them; and ASTHO releases a new brief scanning the work members have done to leverage telehealth services during the pandemic.

The White House YouTube page: Virtual Event – Public Health Community Appreciation Town Hall

APHA webpage: Public Health Thank You Day

ASTHO webpage: Public Health Review podcast

ASTHO Brief: Using Lessons from the COVID-19 Response to Inform Telehealth Activities

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Tuesday, November 30th, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson.

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



Today, I'd like to join my colleagues across the country in thanking you, each and every one of you, for your extraordinary efforts during this time—the long nights, the early mornings, at each point in the pandemic.


ASTHO President Dr. Nirav Shah speaking about the public health workforce last week during an appreciation event hosted by the White House.

He was joined by Dr. Anne Zink, ASTHO's president elect.


Honestly, they have been the most inspiring, incredible workforce I have ever had the privilege to

work with in my entire life.

But unfortunately, many are burning out and leaving the field; and the public health workforce of the future needs to look different to reflect the needs of our country and respond to the rapidly escalating challenges we'll continue to face and our rapidly changing world.


Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of the California Department of Public Health, noted the public's disconnect with the people trying to keep them safe during the pandemic.


People don't understand how public health works; and so, people not only are overworked, but public health officials have to make difficult decisions.

People don't understand how hard it is for us to evaluate the trade-offs. And oftentimes when you make a decision that has trade offs—right, you go right down the middle—you get attacked by all sides. And so, it becomes very stressful. And so, the public health practitioners, the officials, end up being targets of people's frustrations and anger.


Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt leads the District of Columbia Department of Health. She says public health benefits when funding is flexible and disease-agnostic.


And it gives each state health officer and local public health officer the opportunity to implement evidence-based and promising practices that are responsive to what the data shows and what the science is telling them is going to be best for their community.


Dr. Aragón told the audience that public health workers need the same support as others trying to manage the stress caused by COVID-19.


I think public health should really, really embrace mental health prevention. I think we should lead the nation in promoting healing not just the heart of the public health workforce, but really society in general.


Dr. Zink, chief medical officer for the state of Alaska, offered this.


I want to emphasize that I don't think burnout is a failure of a person, but it's a failure of the system. And I really want our public health workforce to hear that your frustration and burnout is not a failure of you. You've done an amazing job throughout this, and we need to make our systems better so that we don't burn out the people working in it.


The White House conversation helped close out ASTHO's month-long celebration of public health workers. In his final comment, here's Dr. Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.


I leave you today with one ask—to take pride in the work you do and fly the public health flag as high as possible. Your work does undoubtedly and unquestionably save lives.



Thinking about the money spent to respond to the pandemic, public health leaders are worried the investments will dry up once the virus is under control.

Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, is concerned vulnerable populations would suffer most.


It's tough because the people that we serve in our clinic settings and other areas are some of the most vulnerable in society. And they're not often set up well to advocate, to persuade others to support this far.

So, it is difficult. It feels like a bit of an uphill battle. But I think COVID has made very clear that there's a crying need to give more attention to public health.


Dr. Stack discusses public health funding in a new episode of the Public Health Review podcast, available tomorrow everywhere you stream audio.


Finally this morning, a new ASTHO brief explains how states and territories have used telehealth to respond to the pandemic. It includes many specific examples of program and policy initiatives that could spark an idea to benefit the communities that you serve.

There's a link to the brief in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's report.


Make sure to follow us on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. You can also listen on Alexa or Google assistant.

If you have time, we'd be grateful if you could leave us a rating and a review.


Be sure to join us again tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information.

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

Nirav Shah MD JD

Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention; President of ASTHO

Anne Zink MD FACEP

Chief Medical Officer for the State of Alaska

LaQuandra Nesbitt MD MPH

Director, DC Department of Health

Steven Stack MD

Kentucky Commissioner for Public Health

Tomas Aragon MD

California State Public Health Officer and Director