Health official is national leader

County director takes helm of association

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

Update

• Previously: John Wiesman was elected vice president of the national association of public health officials in 2010.

• What’s new: After serving as president-elect in 2011, Wiesman became president last week.

• What’s next: Goals include looking at how public health will be part of implementing the Affordable Care Act.

Expanding partnerships will be essential as public health agencies try to make a bigger impact with fewer resources, Clark County Director John Wiesman told a national conference of health officials Friday.

Wiesman was installed as president of the National Association of County and City Health Officials during last week's annual conference in Los Angeles.

In a news release that previewed his speech, Wiesman noted that Clark County Public Health has lost half its staff and 40 percent of its budget in recent years.

"By transitioning some essential services to community partners, we're now in a better position to make changes at the community and policy levels that can have a greater impact on improving the community's health," Wiesman said.

Report on county efforts

During the conference, Wiesman did an online interview with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and discussed how some of those ideas have been implemented in Southwest Washington.

"We strategically transitioned out of clinical services and partnered with community organizations that could provide those services," Wiesman said.

"I think one of the biggest advantages was, it has freed up supervisory and management time, and actual staff time, to do more of that leadership role of system-building and thinking.

"For example: How do we implement the Affordable Care Act and opportunities for bridging the divide between medical care and public health? So it really has, I think, freed us up from the day-to-day crises that have to be dealt with to being able to think more systematically and provide leadership to the system.

"We have also been working really hard on shared services in our region. The emergency-preparedness area is probably where we have had the most experience so far in success. That success led to us actually delegating four counties and a tribe to a single incident command team."

Breaking boundaries

Another collaboration crossed state lines, Wiesman said. "We're part of a four-county region in the Portland metropolitan area. One example of our partnership was during the H1N1 response. We knew that the counties had to really be on the same page as much as possible about vaccine distribution, because our systems overlap. We have health provider systems that cross all of these counties, and so for them it was certainly critical that we have some consistent approach. We also share the same media market, and so it was really important to the public to get the same prevention messages. So we were coordinating daily, literally, during that project.

"And that then broadened to us having the four health department directors and our health officers getting together monthly to talk about issues are we all addressing."

Geographic boundaries really are kind of invisible to health and disease, he said, since people work, live, shop and play in each other's communities.

Some partners aren't even in the health business. Wiesman said his favorite chart has the governmental public health pieces in the middle, but it's surrounded by a ring of businesses, nonprofit organizations and schools.

Wiesman, 51, took over the Vancouver-based agency in July 2004, after managing the prevention division for the Seattle-King County Public Health Department. He oversees its budgeting, personnel and day-to-day administration.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials represents the nation's 2,800 local governmental health departments. They include city, county, metropolitan, district and tribal agencies.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://twitter.com/col_history; tom.vogt@columbian.com.