College of Health and Human Services Hosts Transforming Public Health Workshop

Convening area leaders to rebuild public health infrastructure

As the region approached the second anniversary of declaring a state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic, the College of Health and Human Services convened academic, health department, and philanthropy leaders to discuss the current public health priorities and opportunities to partner in transforming the region’s public health infrastructure.

“The College believes in the power of partnerships to deliver and promote the public’s health and that no one discipline has all the answers,” said Germaine Louis, Dean of the College, in her opening remarks. “Partnerships in Northern Virginia will be a win-win strategy as we work together to develop the much-needed health workforce and harness the power of data.”

The workshop was designed to bring the three critical stakeholder groups together to discuss the role of data and technology, workforce development, and philanthropy in addressing the most pressing priorities shared by the health department directors. The conversation was the first step in identifying solutions and developing actionable plans for the near future.

Michael Fraser, CEO of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, expressed his gratitude for the commitment of the health directors throughout the pandemic as well as his optimistic view that “transformation is possible.” Fraser shared that the pandemic has reinforced state, local, and federal commitment to transform in the areas of health equity, public health infrastructure, and data modernization—and now is the time to act!

Area Health Department Directors Share Priorities

In the first of three panels, the participating health directors discussed workforce challenges, including the shortage of nurse practitioners, particularly in rural areas, and the pervasive need for mental and behavioral health services. The need for on-going workforce development for the current health workforce was a common theme, including opportunities for just-in-time training, workforce retention initiatives, and effective communication strategies.

The group discussed health equity-related challenges, including the demand for a public health workforce that strives for equity in all policies and that helps stakeholders understand the “why” behind health equity initiatives. Participants examined the mind set shifts needed to bring health equity to the region as well as implications for policy, service delivery, and community members in traditionally over-represented populations.

Communication and education about the social determinants of health and their impact on community health were also cited as challenges that health directors seek to address, noting the need to simplify scientific information for the public’s benefit. The health directors explored the rapidly expanding role of data in public health and the increased need for analytical and decision-making skills in the public health workforce as well as the ability to clearly and accurately communicate the meaning behind the data.

Perspectives on Addressing Challenges

Panel

The second panel comprising faculty from the College and Advisory Board Members explored strategic opportunities to address the Health Department’s priorities for transforming public health relative to workforce development; health equity; and data, analytics, and technology.

From a workforce development perspective, the panel explored opportunities for collaboration between health departments and academe. Participants discussed providing students with real-world experience via internships and practica, as well as partnerships to identify the evolving skills, capabilities, and credentials the workforce will need in the future. The College is offering and will continue to develop accessible degree programs that deliver career ready graduates.  The College can help with ‘upskilling’ the current workforce through specific training or by offering focused certificate programs or micro- credentials for the current workforce desiring more targeted training.

The health equity panel noted that a multi-level approach is needed and discussion focused on the many stakeholders involved in equity beyond a strict health focus.  The Panel discussed the importance of technology in delivering health equity, the central role of community health workers, and the important role that academia plays in informing interventions and economic policies to address inequities in care delivery and policy. Faculty discussed their role in developing system-level thinkers who can approach today’s challenges, such as health equity, with complex analytical and problem-solving skills.

In terms of data modernization, panelists raised questions about what the public health data infrastructure is and how modern analytics and technology can offer solutions

moving forward. Discussion focused the importance of a data-ready and analytically-prepared workforce that gathers meaningful data for curation and harmonization into public health applications that positively impact the public’s health rather than keeping data in silos. The panel discussed the need to ask the right questions and to understand who will be using the data.  Also, interdisciplinary collaborations are needed to prepare future public health leaders for decision-making, including the rapid emergence of technologies, like telehealth and artificial intelligence, witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Role of Philanthropy in Meeting the Moment

The third panel featured philanthropic leaders who shared their vision for how foundations and non-profits can partner in the transformation process with contributions that span well beyond their grant-making capabilities. Coalitions, convenings, relationship-building, data, and research are all benefits of partnering with the philanthropic sector to transform public health. Another emerging opportunity for foundations is helping to articulate the message, and funding the initiatives of community coalitions. 

The workshop concluded with a call for further collaboration in service to the many opportunities identified throughout the day. For those who wish to learn more about opportunities to partner in the transformation of public health, please contact Dean Germaine Louis at [email protected].

Summary and Next Steps

During the open discussion following the panels, a number of great points were made and several themes emerged relative to a new conceptual basis for public health through the design and implementation of innovative initiatives centering on workforce, health equity and data modernization, as noted below.

Public Health

Sentiments were articulated that called for all to be proactive in remaining connected with public health and in telling our story, including what does and does not work well.  We need to continue to show up, to listen and strategize, and to share power and responsibility amongst stakeholders.  Both biomedical and social drivers of health and well-being need to be incorporated into public health initiatives and that will mean new collaborators from non-traditional public health disciplines, including: agriculture, housing, transportation, parks and recreation (built environment), urban planners, and businesses/employers.  Philanthropy can use its voice to support of public health in their role as trusted neutral brokers.

Moving forward, we need strategies to prepare for the next pandemic as well as the impact of macro stressors such as climate on health.  Such initiatives might engage multicultural advisory committees for perspective and to ensure stakeholders have a voice. Sustainable funding along with nimble contracting procedures are essential in maximizing the impact of public health, and in helping to ensure we maintain our identity in the context of friction.  Lastly, moving forward will require leveraging existing and new resources and expertise to put principles into practice to ensure health and wellness, coupled with an accompanying safety net to deliver health equity.

Workforce

A new skillset is needed for both the current and future public health workforces as are strategies for upskilling the existing workforce and ensuring career ready graduates.  Academe can prepare students for public health careers but bidirectional communication is needed to ensure needed skillsets aligns with coursework and practicums, while meeting accreditation standards.  Academe can develop and offer credit-bearing (or not) certificate programs or micro-credentials to address current workforce needs, such as the forthcoming Master of Public Health concentration in health equity and social justice.  Repeated calls were made to ensure the future workforce has contemporary skills reflecting best practices for data analytics including visualization and interpretation, communication with native and non-native English speakers, health literacy, community engagement and trust, policy, and advocacy.

Health Equity

Recognizing the many disciplines that comprise public health and equity, the field will need new partners to tackle systemic and structural factors that impede social and health equity.  Best practices are needed and communicating the specifics and impact of health equity to decision makers is needed.  It is timely to be designing equity impact plans targeted to communities and to gather support from stakeholders.

Data, Analytics, and Technology

Data modernization techniques are needed to design the public health data structure and to leverage available and non-traditional databases (e.g., administrative) along with more typical public health registries and databases (e.g., vital registration, cancer registries).  We can be thinking about digital health innovation opportunities so that initiatives can be designed to be effective, efficient, equitable, and safe. Telehealth opportunities are an excellent way to reach underserved populations and are likely to remain post-pandemic and become an acceptable component of clinical care.  In terms of health informatics, there are exciting opportunities to use AI and machine-learning tools to design and deliver equitable health.

Workshop Agenda & Participants

Panel 1: Health Directors’ Panel Discussion – Top 3 Priorities Moving Forward                             

  • Gloria Addo-Ayensu, M.D., M.P.H., District Director, Fairfax Health District *
  • Alison Ansher, M.D., M.P.H., District Director, Prince William Health District* 
  • Michael Fraser, Ph.D., M.S., Chief Executive Officer, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
  • David Goodfriend, M.D., M.P.H., District Director, Loudon Health District
  • L. Trice Gravatte, M.D., Health Director, Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District 
  • Christopher Revere, M.P.A., Deputy Director for Innovation and Planning, Fairfax County Health District 
  • David Rose, M.D., M.B.A., Director, Alexandria Health Department 
  • Robert Sharpe, Chief Operations Officer, Arlington Health District 
  • Reuben Varghese, M.D., District Director, Arlington Health District 

Panel 2: Mason Faculty & Advisory Board Response – Possible Strategic Initiatives for meeting Health Department Needs

Workforce Priority  

  • Carolyn Drews-Botsch, Ph.D., M.P.H., Chair & Professor, Department of Global & Community Health, College of Health & Human Services, George Mason University 
  • Michael Fraser, Ph.D., M.S., Chief Executive Officer, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials*
  • Emily Ihara, Ph.D., M.S.W., Chair & Associate Professor, Department of Social Work, College of Health & Human Services, George Mason University 
  • PJ Maddox, Ed.D., Chair & Professor, Department of Health Administration & Policy, College of Health & Human Services, George Mason University 
  • Robert Weiler, Ph.D., M.P.H., Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, College of Health & Human Services, George Mason University 

Health Equity Priority 

  • Robert Blancato, M.P.A., President, Matz Blancato & Associates* 
  • Gilbert Gimm, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Health Administration & Policy, College of Health & Human Services, George Mason University 
  • Sharon Lamberton, M.S., Deputy Vice President, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America* 
  • Michelle Williams, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Global & Community Health, 
  • College of Health & Human Services, George Mason University 
  • Hong Xue, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Health Administration & Policy, College of Health & Human Services, George Mason University               

Data Platforms, Analytics, and Technology Priority 

  • Anton Arbatov, M.H.A., Senior Vice President Customer Success, Clarity, Inc.* 
  • Alicia Hong, Ph.D., M.P.H., Professor, Department of Health Administration & Policy, College of Health & Human Services, George Mason University 
  • Praduman Jain, Chief Executive Officer & Founder, Vibrent Health* 
  • Rebecca Sutter, D.N.P., Associate Professor, School of Nursing, College of Health & Human Services, George Mason University 
  • Jinshan Tang, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Health Administration & Policy, College of Health & Human Services, George Mason University 
  • Janusz Wojtusiak, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Health Administration & Policy, College of Health & Human Services, George Mason University 

Panel 3: Philanthropic Leaders’ Response – Intersection of Philanthropic Missions with Public Health 

  • Eileen Ellsworth, J.D., President and Chief Executive Officer, The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia 
  • Susie Lee, M.P.H., Executive Director, Potomac Health Foundation* 
  • Patricia Mathews, B.A., President and Chief Executive Officer, Northern Virginia Health Foundation 
  • Robin Mockenhaupt, Ph.D., M.P.H., Robin Mockenhaupt Consulting, LLC* 

* indicates Dean’s Advisory Board Member

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