Member Spotlight: Lance Himes

December 07, 2017|1:27 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

Lance HimesLance Himes is director for the Ohio Department of Health. Before serving as director, Himes served in the agency’s legal department for more than 10 years, where he oversaw several attorneys and office staff. A successful public health attorney, Himes played a significant role in the legal implementation of Ohio’s smoke-free workplace law and rules, as well as an extensive overhaul of Ohio’s sewage treatment regulations, which helped reform the laws for the first time since 1977. As director, Himes helps drive the mission of the Ohio Department of Health—that is, to protect and improve the health of all Ohioans by preventing disease, promoting good health, and assuring access to quality care.

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

As a long-time public health attorney, it was a natural progression for me to move into senior leadership. The challenging work in public health and a strong sense of public service made it an easy decision for me when the opportunity presented itself.

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

There was not just one specific person who influenced me to lead a health department. Working in public health alongside prior Ohio health officials illustrated how rewarding the position can be. Supporting and enabling hundreds of dedicated public health employees to impact the lives of all Ohioans was also a strong factor. Finally, my existing relationship with a supportive governor’s office sealed the deal.

What is your morning ritual?

I wake up the kids, make coffee, feed the dogs and kids, and do morning chores. After that, I quickly scan Twitter (for news) and my emails, and then, after school drop-off, head to the office.

What do you do to stay healthy?

I try to eat healthy, get enough sleep, and walk on the treadmill every day.

Where is your favorite vacation spot?

For the past two summers, our family has gone to Fort Walton Beach in Florida. The beaches and blue water on the Gulf of Mexico are beautiful, even in August! A close second would be Hilton Head.

What are your favorite hobbies?

I would love to have more time for hobbies. When I do have time, I enjoy spending it with the kids, watching movies (comedy and superhero), working in the yard, sporting clay, and target shooting.

What is your state doing to address the opioid epidemic?

Ohio has put in place one of the nation’s most aggressive and comprehensive approaches to fighting opiate addiction and drug overdoses. Ohio has developed a responsive, comprehensive, community-centered plan of action—an approach based on four strategic pillars: treatment and recovery, prevention, education, and tougher, more effective enforcement aimed at drug traffickers and pill-mill operators who are injecting this poison into our communities.

In addition, Ohio is investing more than $1 billion each year to help communities battle the scourge of drug abuse and addiction at the local level. Because of this strong commitment, Ohio communities have access to significant funding to help them address treatment, prevention, and law enforcement. Those resources include:

  • Helping communities purchase the life-saving drug naloxone.
  • Investing in specialized drug courts that link offenders with treatment.
  • Providing safe, stable housing to help drug-addicted Ohioans recover.
  • Increasing funding for individuals needing addiction and behavioral health treatment.
  • Enforcing Ohio’s drug laws to prevent the illegal distribution of powerful synthetic opioids.

We still have much work to do, but Ohio is seeing some important progress. In 2016, opioid prescribing declined for a fourth consecutive year, and Ohio had its fewest prescription opioid-related overdose deaths since 2009. This progress corresponds with efforts to encourage the appropriate and safe use of prescription opioids, as well as to reduce excess supply available for abuse. Working with medical professionals, we have established opioid prescribing guidelines and new rules limiting the amount of opioids prescribed for acute pain. Ohio’s prescribers and pharmacists are empowered to prevent opioid abuse using the state’s prescription drug monitoring system, the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System, which allows them to check what opioids or other controlled substances a patient might be taking before prescribing a controlled substance.

How did your career in public health begin?

After practicing environmental law for seven years in Cincinnati, I had an opportunity to join the state health department as an attorney. Public health and environmental issues are closely related, so it was an easy transition. Transitioning from the private sector to government work, however, was a little more difficult, but I made the right choice.

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

I love knowing that what we do has an impact on the health of Ohioans, even if they do not know it. When I talk to people about public health, they are typically surprised to learn about what we do and how many areas of their lives we touch. Keeping our citizens safe and healthy is something you can leave work every day feeling good about.

What are your primary public health priorities?

In early 2017, Ohio released its new state health improvement plan, which is a strategic menu of priorities, outcome objectives, and evidence-based strategies designed to address three of Ohio’s greatest health challenges: mental health and addiction, chronic disease, and maternal and infant health. Reducing disparities in each of these areas is a top priority. In addition, ensuring that every Ohioan has access to quality public health services is a priority. Ohio requires all local health districts to achieve accreditation by the Public Health Accreditation Board. Our department is assisting in this effort by providing resources and technical assistance.

What is something you’re most thankful to have been a part of during your career in public health?

Crafting administrative rules to implement and enforce Ohio’s smoke-free workplace law was very rewarding. I really enjoyed traveling the state and educating local health departments and stakeholders on the law and rules. Surviving numerous legal challenges topped it off.

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

I have learned a great deal about the value of collaboration in attacking public health challenges. To achieve change, we need federal, state, and local partners (including non-traditional partners) to be aligned. Where alignment is difficult to achieve, we need to have the relationships to at least be aware of the initiatives one another are doing to ensure we complement the efforts and fill gaps. This is especially true with the current opioid crisis.