Leading State Health: John Dreyzehner

January 26, 2017|2:34 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

ASTHO congratulates John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH, FACOEM, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, on completing a two-year term as one of the tri-chairs of the National Homeland Security Consortium, a forum for public and private sector disciplines to coalesce efforts and perspectives about how best to protect America in the 21st century.

Dreyzehner’s tenure as a tri-chair, which coincided with the Ebola and Zika outbreaks, was the first by a public health official. During his tenure, he provided significant leadership in helping multiple disciplines understand the important role of public health in a major domestic response. Dreyzehner also ensured that public health issues and concerns were included in the white paper provided to the incoming administration outlining the consortium’s priorities. ASTHO is grateful to Dreyzehner for his trailblazing leadership in this position.

In addition, Dreyzehner recently published an article in the Journal of Public Health Management & Practice, “The Big 4: Using Primary Prevention to Drive Population Health,” in which he writes about the epidemics of chronic disease contributing to the health crisis facing our nation. “Underlying this crisis are what we in the Tennessee Department of Health call the ‘Big 4,’” Dreyzehner writes. “Physical inactivity, excessive caloric intake, tobacco and nicotine addiction, and other substance use disorders. Collectively, these Big 4 issues are driving all of our 10 leading causes of death in Tennessee and our nation.”

With this in mind, ASTHO reached out to Dreyzehner to ask him about Tennessee’s Primary Prevention Initiative, how to convince lawmakers to support and engage in prevention activities, and how similar initiatives can be successful in other states and regions. You can also find Dreyzehner discussing his Primary Prevention Initiative with Journal of Public Health Management & Practice in this three-part video interview.

How have you gotten government and non-government entities to support prevention activities?

By its very nature, the willing participation and leadership of multiple individuals and groups across multiple contexts is ongoing and essential. This is not something that just a state or local health department can do.

What are the most effective ways to communicate with and engage policymakers on primary prevention? 

Be persistent, work constantly to partner and engage, strive to be recognized and trusted in the context of population health leadership, and whenever possible, credit the actual doers.

Can you tell us more about your role in supporting local health officials to champion and spread the Primary Prevention Initiative in Tennessee?

It has been necessary to articulate, train, encourage, and align the department behind a mission that emphasizes both health and prosperity, a clearly articulated vision, and a performance management system that works to create these alignments without being proscriptive. We have also thought of some ways to provide funding, via tobacco settlement funds for example.

What would it take for similar initiatives to be successful in other states and regions?

Give dedicated, creative, and passionate people the space and cover to innovate, and give them a clear performance-based management framework to work within (we use Baldrige, as opposed to a strict standards-based framework). Recognize that not everyone will wish to engage, but nevertheless, keep striving to engage all, because for prevention to work, it has to be, in its own way, infectious.