Member Spotlight: K. Lynn Gallagher

May 18, 2017|5:01 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

K-Lynn_GallagherK. Lynn Gallagher is cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health. As the leader of the state’s largest agency, Gallagher manages the department’s $550 million budget and leads more than 3,000 employees in evidence-based, strategic health initiatives and health systems innovation. In addition to operating the state’s accredited, centralized public health system, the New Mexico Department of Health operates six 24/7 facilities, including the state’s mental hospital, one community program for persons with developmental disabilities, the developmental disabilities supports division, the division of health improvement, and the medical cannabis program.

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

The unfortunate death of our former state health official and my dear friend, Retta Ward. It was not my intention to step into this role so suddenly. However, on March 3, 2016, she suddenly passed away. I had expected to experience many years supporting her as her senior deputy. I met Retta soon after she was appointed to the Aging and Long Term Services Department in New Mexico. We became fast friends, shared similar life experiences, and I began working for her as general counsel. She was appointed to lead the health department in January 2013, and I transitioned as her senior deputy later that year. Retta was the catalyst for my passion and commitment to public health. She helped mentor, educate, and guide me down this path that has become life prospering and altering.

What is your morning ritual?   

I drink coffee with my husband. We are both engaged in busy careers and this is a precious time for us.  

What do you do to stay healthy?  

I grew up hating exercise and all things healthy. As I age, however, I find myself on a journey toward becoming and staying fit. Walking on trails or around new cities is one of my favorite ways to stay healthy. I am just now embarking on a bicycle riding expedition with my husband around the amazing trails in Santa Fe. We are fortunate to have great weather almost all the time, and we get outside to either hike or ride bikes every weekend that we can.

Where is your favorite vacation spot?  

All of them. I love adventure and visiting new places. However, several years ago, we discovered an all-inclusive vacation spot—Excellence Resorts—which seems to fit all our needs. It is a beautiful location, good food, fun, swimming, and nice people.

What are your favorite hobbies?

Travelling and reading. I love exploring new cities and reading about grand adventures!

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

I love seeing the positive impact that improving health can have on a population. New Mexico is a very rural state and we face tough health challenges. However, when the community gathers together to tackle health issues, we become unstoppable. There is an energy that public health creates and fosters that is infectious.  

What do you find most challenging about public health?
The biggest challenge is prioritizing the limited funding we receive to have the largest health impact. We know that “an ounce of prevention is worth of pound of cure” and New Mexico spends so much trying to battle multi-chronic illnesses that affect its population. It is hard to shift funding opportunities toward interventions that we know will take many years to see true improvements.  

What are your primary public health priorities?

I am focusing on health issues that have the greatest impact on New Mexico’s population health status, expanding community engagement, and working on a sustainability plan that will help the agency be more efficient and effective as the future of public health services evolves.

I am fundamentally committed to connecting communities and health. I envision linkages between traditional public health provision and community wellness and critical care settings. Once communities partner with local, federal, and state options, citizens will be able to access healthcare providers in their medical-model home while receiving core public health and wellness education and safety net services in one convenient location.

To this end, we have created our strategic plan around four priority areas: diabetes, obesity, substance misuse, and teen pregnancy. We embed these priorities into everything we do. We know that obesity, diabetes, and substance misuse are the prime contributors to chronic illness and lost years of life, as well as risk factors for virtually all leading causes of death and disability. Achieving breakthrough reductions in obesity, diabetes, and substance misuse will dramatically alter health status in New Mexico—and reduce healthcare costs.

Our goal for reducing teen births is dramatic and aggressive—we are aiming for a 50 percent reduction in four years, and we are already making progress. Reducing teen births promotes economic security, educational attainment, and healthier environments for children, not to mention reductions in government spending and abortion rates.

What is your vision for the future of public health?  

Public health is certainly changing. I see a future where public health is hyper-focused on community engagement, capacity building, and health education. I hope to see more partnerships emerge between healthcare, public health, and urgent care. We need to focus on common models of healthcare provision in one location where resources can be shared. Finances are decreasing and public health interventions take time. Linking many partners provides for a more robust experience for the population, eliminates replication, and allows capacity building and revenue sharing opportunities that did not exist as readily in the past. It is an exciting time.  

How has social media helped advance public health within your state?  

The New Mexico Department of Health has a very active and involved social media campaign, including messaging on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. We have found these mediums particularly useful during times of an outbreak or emergency. We use social media as a messaging platform to ensure local communities know what is happening at their public health offices, state-operated facilities, or other DOH-related programs. We even use it to ensure the safety and security of many staff members and families during local emergencies. As our society becomes more globally- and technologically-focused, social media is the new voice, and it is certainly part of our future plans and goals.