Preparedness From the Field: Harry Bruce Jeffries, Jr.

November 21, 2017|4:27 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

Harry Bruce Jeffries, Jr.Harry Bruce Jeffries, Jr., commonly known as Jeff, is the deputy director of health protection at the Georgia Department of Public Health. In this role, Jeff oversees the state’s Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP), Pubic Health Emergency Preparedness Program (PHEP), immunization section, Office of Refugee Health, and Office of Pharmacy.

In addition, Jeff contributes to a variety of projects at the request of J. Patrick O’Neal, commissioner and state health officer for the Georgia Department of Public Health, and Keisha Dixon, chief of staff. Jeff currently serves as chair of ASTHO’s Directors of Public Health Preparedness (DPHP) Executive Committee. He has also served as chair-elect, member at large, treasurer, and Region IV-VI representative.

What do you do to stay healthy?

To stay health, I engage in moderately fast-paced walks on the treadmill for 40 minutes, core exercises and resistant exercises three or four days a week, and yard work. I lost a few pounds in January and I want to keep them off, so my wife and I are trying to eat smaller and healthier portions. I have regular battles with my arch enemies: peanut butter M&M’s, caramel M&M’s, and chocolate M&M’s. So far, they aren’t winning. I also get regular health check-ups and all of the recommended age-related evaluations.

Where is your favorite vacation spot?

My wife and I fell in love with Holden Beach, NC, shortly after we were married in 1983, and we have returned almost every year since. I’m from West Virginia, and she’s from southern Ohio and eastern Kentucky, so we also make frequent trips to the Appalachian Mountains. Both areas recharge and relax us.

What are your favorite hobbies?

This isn’t necessarily a hobby, but we do local church mission work and mission trips to Nicaragua. As far as actual hobbies, I enjoy hunting, home improvement projects, yard work, and RVing.

What does public health preparedness mean to you?

For me, public health preparedness means planning and responding to any variety of events that directly impact or may impact public health or the healthcare system, as well as the psycho-social or physical health of Georgia’s citizens, visitors, and the populations of our neighboring states. Recent examples include: North Korea’s threat to fire nuclear armed missiles at Hawaii, Guam, and other U.S. territories; hurricanes resulting in evacuations into Georgia; severe weather events within HHS Region IV; as well as responses to the opioid epidemic and significant epidemiologic outbreaks.

How did your career in public health preparedness begin? 

From 1998-2001, I was an Air Force physician assistant, fulfilling a required non-clinical assignment as an HHS Region IV U.S. Joint Forces Command Joint Regional Medical Planner at Ft. McPherson, GA. While attending a VA Emergency Management Conference in Albany, NY, during the week of Sept. 9, 2001, we were hearing a presentation about a person named Osama Bin Laden when our pagers and cell phones started going off. Upon seeing reports and hearing messages, our group went to the nearest TVs in the hotel and saw what was happening. Several of us were deployed to the response coordination center in MA. After two days, we were deployed to New York City, where I was the USNHS (United States Naval Hospital) Ship Comfort, DOD liaison officer. When the mission moved from response to recovery, my colleague and I were recalled to our home station. Upon returning home and speaking with my wife, I realized I wanted to leave active medical practice and work in emergency preparedness. I retired in 2002 and began my career in public health. My first position was senior planner and Metropolitan Medical Response System MMRS liaison for the Georgia Department of Public Health. I have since held several positions as the emergency preparedness director, PHEP-HPP alignment coordinator, acting deputy director, as well as my current position: deputy director of health protection.

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

I have really enjoyed the relationships I’ve developed since coming to the Georgia Department of Public Health. As for the work, it has evolved quite a bit from our early years and continues to evolve, with a greater dependence on the health department’s involvement in more planning, preparedness, and response activities. I can honestly say that no two days are alike, but with the people I am privileged to work with at the state and local levels, Georgia is well prepared for tomorrow’s events.

What is your vision for the future of public health preparedness?

The work is becoming exponentially more complex. There is more to operation planning and response with finite financial and physical resources to call upon. There is a greater need for inter-programmatic dependence with  entities such ASPR, CDC, DHS, emergency management, as well as NGOs and volunteer agencies, including faith-based organizations. Inter-regional planning and response plays a large role. In addition, we face asymmetrical response activities, such as international, trans-Atlantic, and trans-Pacific responses, as well as increasingly large shooting and vehicular attacks, the relocation of entire communities due to rising oceans and the subsequent ecological impact of the infrastructures left behind, as well as the threat of potential chemical or biological attacks. I am seeing public health preparedness addressing more responsibilities in shelter operations, as well as long-term response activities such as the current opioid epidemic and infectious and communicable disease responses. Ecological disasters such as Flint river-like disasters and large- or region-wide fires are a critical concern. As is preparing for, responding to, and recovering from potential cyber and nuclear attacks, as well as electromagnetic pulse detonations. I realize the list is long, but this is becoming the norm, and I can only imagine there are going to be events we have not yet conceived.

What can ASTHO do to better support your work in public health preparedness?  

For the broader preparedness community, ASTHO can help by assisting in the development and refinement of a PHEP and HPP mentoring program for directors and managers with a year or less of experience. Our collective maturity and resilience in the grooming and mentoring of these new leaders within the preparedness community is paramount, so that they do not feel isolated or leave prematurely due to stress and subsequent burnout. 

In this upcoming year as DPHP Chair, ASTHO can best support my work with continued assistance and guidance, so that I can do my best to support my department, staff, and colleagues. Additionally, ASTHO can help by continuing to sustain a strong relationship with the preparedness community, as well as the Preparedness Policy Committee, CDC, ASPR, DHS-OHA, DHS-FEMA, NACCHO, and other partners.