ASTHO’s 2018 Vision Awards Recognize Massachusetts, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas

September 28, 2018|9:53 a.m.| ASTHO Staff

On Sept. 25, ASTHO presented four state health departments with 2018 Vision Awards during its annual conference. Created in 1990, the awards are presented annually to recognize outstanding programs or initiatives at state and territorial health departments that demonstrate creative approaches to address public health challenges. The Vision Awards promote awareness and expand recognition of successful state and territorial health programs.

ASTHO presents these awards in two categories: programs with budgets greater than $250,000 and programs with budgets less than $250,000. Applications are judged by public health experts and leaders and considered for their innovation, program effectiveness, and potential for replication.

Here are this year’s winners:

Category A: Budgets Greater than $250,000


First Place: Texas Department of State Health Services
Texas Zika Public Awareness Campaign

In 2016, the state of Texas identified Zika as an emerging public health risk. In response, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) implemented a comprehensive, integrated campaign to empower people to take simple steps to protect themselves, their families, and their communities from the spread of Zika. With a budget of nearly six million dollars over two years, the Texas Zika campaign involved statewide advertising and stakeholder outreach to increase awareness among target populations, especially women of childbearing age and travelers. Over the course of the campaign, Zika cases trended downward due, in part, to the state’s proactive efforts to educate the public and community leaders. In 2016, there were 315 reported cases of Zika in Texas. In 2017, reported cases dropped to 55 and so far—in the first half of 2018—there have been just three reported cases in the state.

Second Place: Massachusetts Department of Public Health
Public Health Data Warehouse

Massachusetts declared a public health emergency in March 2014 in response to the opioid crisis. Still, in subsequent years, the number of opioid-related deaths in the state increased by 450 percent. Like most states, Massachusetts was struggling to develop timely data sources to study the nature, scope, and drivers of the opioid epidemic. As part of a multifaceted effort to address this extraordinary public health crisis, the Massachusetts legislature passed Chapter 55—most widely known as the Public Health Data Warehouse (PHD)—in August 2015. For the first time ever, it allowed the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to link data across state agencies and public and private organizations to analyze and better understand what factors play a role in fatal and non-fatal opioid overdoses. A key goal of this program centers on using these findings to prompt conversations among stakeholders to develop or influence policies and programmatic improvements to mitigate the impacts of the opioid epidemic. In addition to providing groundbreaking insights, this project demonstrates that private and public organizations can collaboratively answer complex public health questions. The PHD has expanded the understanding of several root causes of the opioid epidemic.

Category B: Budgets Less than $250,000


First Place: Tennessee Department of Health
Tennessee Livability Collaborative

The Tennessee Livability Collaborative is a working group of 13 Tennessee state agencies with a mission to improve the prosperity, quality of life, and health of Tennesseans. The collaborative takes a Health in All Policies approach to primary prevention, where health-promoting work is integrated into decisionmaking in non-health sectors. It also works to build connections at the local level and provides county and regional state employees opportunities for leadership development, cross-sector training, and relationship building among agencies that may not typically work together. The collaborative has two innovative cross-sector initiatives currently underway: (1) the ThreeStar Planning Initiative, which brings together all member agencies to assist two rural counties in developing and implementing their economic development plans, and (2) the Tennessee Ambassador League—a learning institute and training opportunity for state government staff to learn about programs and resources available across the Tennessee government enterprise around jobs, transportation, housing, food, and education.

Second Place: South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control
SC-DHEC Upstate Training Center

The SC-DHEC Upstate Training Center (UTC) began in April 2017 to improve and standardize the orientation and onboarding process for new health department employees within the region. In addition to training, the UTC created and implemented strategies to develop and enhance the region’s current staff. Using a holistic and hybrid educational approach consisting of classroom instruction, mentoring, one-on-one observations and e-learning, the UTC trains all employees in the nutritionist, public health nursing, and administrative staff disciplines, ensuring they are more confident and competent in their roles as they leave the training center to be deployed at their health department. As the training center has evolved over its first year of operation, there have been several notable improvements: new employee retention has increased, there have been fewer data entry and billing errors, and supervisors are observing more confidence and productivity among staff.

ASTHO congratulates all of the 2018 Vision Award winners for their innovative programs and exemplary public health leadership.