Member Spotlight: Howard Haft

May 10, 2018|10:31 a.m.| ASTHO Staff

Howard Haft, MDHoward Haft, MD, is deputy secretary for public health at the Maryland Department of Health. Haft has 27 years of clinical experience in primary internal medicine and 10 years of hospital-based emergency medicine, clinical, and leadership experience. In addition to his considerable accomplishments in the medical field, Haft brings a strong entrepreneurial history to the role, with significant experience in improving health outcomes and innovative healthcare delivery. Among his numerous accomplishments, Haft co-founded ConMed Health Inc., a Maryland-based provider of correctional healthcare services to county and municipal detention facilities in 15 states, where he served as chief medical officer until his retirement in 2010. Haft also founded and served as president and medical director of the Maryland HealthCare Associates, where he established a multi-specialty medical practice.

In his role as deputy secretary for public health, Haft participates in ASTHO matters on the agency's behalf and is responsible for ten administrations, including the state lab, the office of preparedness and response, healthcare quality, prevention and health promotion, controlled substances administrations, population health improvement, vital statistics, chief medical examiner, as well as 23 county health officers and the Maryland Primary Care Program.

What was the experience or motivating factor that compelled you to become a state health official?

The primary factor was serendipity. I have always been a mission-focused person with a primary interest in improving the health of populations. In 2015, a good friend of mine [Van Mitchell] was appointed secretary of the Maryland Department of Health. He offered my name to Gov. Larry Hogan to take on public health leadership, which I saw as a great honor, opportunity, and responsibility.

Was there someone who influenced you to lead a health department?

I was influenced by my desire to improve the health of all people in Maryland, as well as good friends and family, who encouraged me to take on the challenge.

What is your morning ritual?

I exercise at the gym three to four days per week, have my coffee on the road to Baltimore, which is an hour-and-a-half drive from where I live. I then handle a few very early morning calls and engage in quiet spiritual reflection before the day begins.

What do you do to stay healthy?

I focus on a balanced diet, exercise, sports, and rest.

Where is your favorite vacation spot?

Saint Lucia.

What are your favorite hobbies?

Surfing, skiing, diving, sailing, and swimming.

What is your state doing to address the opioid epidemic? 

In Maryland, we have a well-organized approach, extending from the grassroots and community levels through the various levels of government. These government efforts are led by the Opioid Operational Command Center, established under a state of emergency, with major funding from the Governor’s Office. The command center focuses on three pillars: prevention, enforcement, as well as treatment and recovery.

How has public health changed during your time in the field?

In just the last four years, the rise of public health informatics has significantly changed the way we approach virtually every public health issue. The other major change has been a strong focus on population health, as we draw all segments of the healthcare delivery system toward the purpose of improving health. This has been particularly effective in Maryland, as hospitals have transitioned to global budgets with a focus on population health. This has also allowed for a growing recognition of the importance of the social determinants of health and health equity.

What do you love most about the public health work you do? 

My colleagues are passionate about their mission, incredibly hardworking, and humble. It is an honor to serve with them.

What are your primary public health priorities?

Integration of population health into all segments of the healthcare delivery system, public health workforce development, as well as greater funding for public health initiatives by presenting decisionmakers with a clearer value proposition.

What is your vision for the future of public health?

I would like to see the integration of public health back into the overall fabric of the healthcare delivery system.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned during your career in public health?

The most important lesson I’ve learned is the value of building strong relationships with stakeholders, as well as the critical importance of getting commitment from decisionmakers early and completely. Also: assume nothing.