Revitalizing Public Health Through Connection
August 31, 2022 | 19:04 minutes
The Senior Leader Reserve Corps connects former government public health leaders with current state health officials in need of leadership-level technical assistance and support. ASTHO developed this program with CDC to support state health officials as they face their biggest professional challenges.
In this episode, Dr. Greg Holzman (alum-MT), Paula Tran (SHO-WI), and Meredith Alexander (ASTHO) discuss this innovative program and highlight the work that Paula and Greg have done in Wisconsin to strengthen the statewide public health infrastructure.
To request support for your health agency, or for more information on volunteering with the Senior Leader Reserve Corps, please email the Performance Excellence team.
- Greg Holzman: Alum-Montana, SLRC Member
- Paula Tran: SHO-WI
- Meredith Alexander: Senior Analyst, Performance Excellence and Engagement, ASTHO
This is Public Health Review. I'm Robert Johnson.
On this episode: public health expertise on call. ASTHO's Senior Leader Reserve Corps, ready to help states and territories with almost any public health challenge.
This program has really allowed me to feel a little bit of breathing room when it comes to some of our bigger picture strategy items that sometimes take a bit of a backseat to the largest fire of the day.
In this case, I felt like giving some consulting and ideas and thoughts. A lot of it, I find myself just challenging them, to say, "Think about it this way," or do that.
So, many of our projects come out of conversations that senior leaders have had with someone at ASTHO about a specific challenge that they're facing or a specific skillset or perspective that they're lacking in their agency.
Welcome to Public Health Review, a podcast brought to you by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. With each episode, we explore what health departments are doing to tackle the most pressing public health issues facing our states and territories.
Today, public health leaders matched to state and territorial health departments, experts ready to help their colleagues with almost any project. We're talking about ASTHO's Senior Leader Reserve Corps, launched in March 2021.
Dr. Greg Holtzman, a former state health official in Montana and Michigan, is part of the corps. He's working with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and state health officer Paula Tran. We'll find out about the project and how it's going when they join us later in the podcast.
But first, ASTHO's Meredith Alexander tells us about the Senior Leader Reserve Corps.
The Senior Leader Reserve Corps is a group of former public health leaders who have retired from governmental public health, but who have a huge wealth of knowledge and expertise that they use to support current state health leadership through the Senior Leader Reserve Corps program.
So, many of our SLRC members are former state and island health officials. We also have C-suite leaders, senior deputies, preparedness directors, all sorts of folks.
Alexander says the program offers many benefits for departments and their leaders.
So, the role of the health agency leader is so specialized that sometimes the best person to help them work through a challenge is someone who's been in the same role and encountered the same situations. So, that peer-to-peer support is really what we specialize in.
It may be that the health agency is looking for a strategic thought partner. They may need an outside perspective or someone with expertise that their department is lacking. Often, they come to ASTHO looking for support, and they're actually identified internally as being a good fit for SLRC, but I always recommend that folks reach out if they feel that they might have a need that SLRC can fill. Even if SLRC doesn't end up being the right fit for them, we can connect that agency with other ASTHO programs that can support them.
Alexander explains how the program works.
All of our projects are custom built around the requesting agency's needs, so every project is different depending on the situation. Some of our former projects include building visible and committed leadership around health equity, mapping out and articulating core business functions with the goal of being able to improve advocacy for the organizational needs, supporting the build out of a centralized grants management office, co-leading a state's public health leadership program.
So, as you can see, we have a lot of really diverse projects going on right now, and really it's up to the health department the area that we will focus in on.
Alexander adds there's no cost to agencies that want to participate.
The Senior Leader Reserve Corps is a really unique opportunity to engage with former health leaders at no cost to the health department. So, if leaders are facing a challenge that could benefit from an outside perspective, a wealth of additional experiences, if there's a knowledge gap in their department, or really if there's any type of challenge that they're encountering, we're here to help.
Wisconsin state health officer Paula Tran saw the possibilities when she heard about the Senior Leader Reserve Corps, starting with a plan to rebuild the state's Public Health Council.
Our Public Health Council is a statutory council that advises our Department of Health Services as well as our governor and our legislature, generally around public health priorities, with specific columns for 10-year plans related to public health as well as supporting advice related to public health emergencies.
Historically, this group has had a strong focus on governmental public health and training. And we found that, over the past few years, that we definitely have not been leveraging this group to its full capacity. And I think we saw, in particular during the pandemic, that we definitely weren't leveraging this group to really provide advice to our systems and our decision makers. So, in the past several months, we've been working with a new executive team to really think about reinvigorating its structure and really strengthening its ability to provide advice to our key decision makers in the state.
What led you to decide it was time to engage the council and to give it some new direction?
There were a few things. So, council members were wanting this. You know, I think they themselves felt like they weren't active members in the past response. And with the charge that they had in terms of advising around emergencies, I think they felt like there was an opportunity there to strengthen the ties and the ways that they could provide support to the state.
We also had a lot of staff transitions, and our current staff are really excited about supporting the council as well as making sure they're appropriately staffed to really meet their mission. And I think just sort of where we are in the COVID pandemic offers us a lot of opportunities to leverage lessons learned.
So, there were a few different dynamics that really pointed towards the Public Health Council being an opportunity to strengthen existing assets and infrastructure.
Tell us how the Senior Leader Reserve Corps fits into your plan for the council.
We were given the opportunity to access the Senior Leader Reserve Corps for really any topic. And as we were sort of strategizing around areas that we wanted to strengthen, I found as I just read the opportunity there that it would be really great to have an external player a part of the mix, in particular, folks that had, you know, state-level leadership from other states that could really bring relevant but diverse experience to what we were doing here.
I will say, in addition to sort of strengthening the Public Health Council, some of the other structures that we were working to strengthen is around the roles of our chief medical officers and medical advisors within the department. And one of the opportunities that I saw there was to really create a connection between our chief medical officers and our medical advisors with our Public Health Council. And our Senior Leader Reserve Corps member, Greg, has really dynamic experiences as a previous chief medical officer and medical advisor in a couple of different states as well as as a state health officer. So, he in particular brings experience that sort of brings both of those assets to one place. So, we're really we've been really grateful for his guidance.
Would you say the Senior Leader Reserve Corps member is like a mentor to your team?
Yeah, he's really been serving as an advisor and consultant to our staff as they work with the executive committee of our Public Health Council. So, he meets with our staff and with our council members to sort of be an active participant and advisor as they are working through these changes. And he's also been meeting with our chief medical officers and medical advisors to also impart advice in those spaces as well.
Well, how do you think it's going so far? Do you think it is making a difference?
I think it's already making a difference. They've already restructured a couple of their committees, they're working through restructuring their bylaws. And it's been a really valuable experience having Greg be a part of those conversations. I think folks are feeling like they're getting a perspective that is really unique and really value-add.
So, how valuable is this to you, as a state health official?
Well, it's tremendous to have multiple diverse strategic thinkers in many spaces. I think there is no shortage of things to do and work to be done. And when you can have somebody who has such high-level experiences, that can come in and just that is their only role—to be strategic and help a group move strategy and not get lost in the tactics and the operations—I think that is incredibly valuable. Because, you know, our strategic thinkers can't be everywhere.
And so for me, as a administrator to our division and state health officer, I'm always appreciative of others who can jump in and hold space for strategy and really keep the group seeing the big picture. Because, you know, I think our teams are really well-oriented to moving tactics and operations and it's difficult, I think, to be tasked with holding sight on the vision, the strategy, as well as you know, move the operations forward. So, it's been tremendously helpful to have him in these conversations.
Can you imagine having the time on your schedule to manage this council project if you didn't have the extra help?
It would be tremendously difficult to fill what he is doing. And, you know, I have joined the Public Health Council and the executive team a handful of times, but certainly could not have devoted the time that he has been able to to the staff as well as to the council.
In your view, what's the best argument, then, for taking advantage of the Senior Leader Reserve Corps program?
You know, I think especially during a time when we are navigating so many changes and so many dynamic responses, it is tremendously difficult to hold sight on moving the big picture, visionary strategic work, as well as be able to move our responses on a wide range of emergencies.
So, for anyone who is out there leading an agency and feeling the tug and pull of the big picture vision versus the day-to-day strategy and operations, this program has really allowed me to feel a little bit of breathing room when it comes to some of our bigger picture strategy items that sometimes take a bit of a backseat to the largest fire of the day.
Dr. Greg Holzman was the state medical officer in Montana and the chief medical executive in Michigan. Now, he's part of the Reserve Corps. Holzman says he loves public health and the Wisconsin project.
Yeah, the Wisconsin program has been really quite cool. They have in their legislation, in law, they're supposed to have a committee called a Public Health Council. And that council over the years—I think it was 2002 that it was put through—and it has its mission through that to help guidance, with the implementation, and how things are moving forward in their state health plan and also for preparedness issues.
The council had kind of fallen a little bit into disarray. It just was not living up to the potential of what it could be doing to help educate and advocate and focus at the department level, at the legislative level, governor level, and even in the public. And so, the idea was to try to get back and rejuvenate this council to be an effective council for the state of Wisconsin.
How do you think the project has been going so far?
I think it's been incredible. They've done amazing work. And that's really—credit goes to the folks in the department who have really pushed this forward. And then, specifically the current executive committee of the Public Health Council, which is appointed by the governor—not the executive committee, but the Public Health Council members are—and they have really delved in and re-energized this. And we've developed new bylaws and approved those, and we're moving forward in a really good fashion. So, I'm excited about it.
Thinking about the work you've done already, do you think that there has been success?
Yeah. Like I said, the council had really kind of fallen into disarray, more so a listening board, but how much guidance they were giving back is questionable. I think one of the big issues that was eye opening to me is they were supposed to help with public health emergencies, and they weren't really involved at all with the COVID response.
So, the aspect of just getting people together and redefining the bylaws, re-assessing, you know—there's certain aspects that have to be done because they are in law, but to define better the mission and the values of that group.
The council can have 23 members, I think they have 12 active right now. So, part of it was now to also bring in new members that were going to be committed to the new commitment that they actually had for this.
Share a little bit more about your role as a member of the Senior Leader Reserve Corps, working with the folks in Wisconsin.
In this case, I felt like giving some consulting and ideas and thoughts. A lot of it, I find myself just challenging them to say, "Hey, think about it this way," or doing that. The project is the committee's, and they're the ones that are really defining what this committee will be and how to get it up and going to the extent that we want to have that in the state of Wisconsin. And I think I've become a sounding board.
How do you think your experience in Montana and Michigan as a state health official has helped you help Wisconsin?
You know, I think just that experience. As SHOs, I think, there's a lot of things that are very similar, of some of the stresses and some of the challenges that we have working with a very diverse and many different opinioned communities. And so, how to kind of work in that atmosphere and try to pull together something that is inclusive of different people's voices.
So, I think the experience and some of the failures that I've had along the way and everything else, and failures and successes other SHOs that I've learned from, has helped me with this project as they work through it.
Why do you think an ASTHO member ought to consider getting involved in the program?
I think ASTHO does a good job—you know, we have a little bit of a dating phase between the person that is an SLRC member and the state to make sure that, you know, that person has the right background for the project that they're looking in. So, you kind of put that together.
And then I think the aspect of this is really threefold. One is just time: there's a lot more to do than we have time for. So, this gives you an extra person that has a lot of experience so they bring that with them into the project to come in and help them.
Two, I think it gives a different viewpoint from other areas from outside of their state. Now, challenges, I don't understand the state as well, but can do some background and learn from it. But then, I can bring in experiences of my own personally, or from other colleagues that I have learned from. I think that adds a lot to it, also.
And then the last aspect is if you get the person that is the right fit—and hopefully people that are doing the Senior Leadership Reserve Corps really love what they're doing, and they're going to say yes to a project that fits them, and say no to a project that doesn't fit for them—is you've got the energy and that passion of public health to really work and try to pull this thing through.
We always like to ask about lessons learned. Are there any here that you can think of?
Well, I think one of the best things, and something that I've always loved, about public health is it really is a team sport and it's about working together for the common good. And there's no doubt that the last few years have been very challenging for public health folks, in general. And I feel like this was an opportunity to, again, reach out to each other and start getting back to our roots of working together to solve problems, to build communities which we believe can be healthy, and fighting for the causes that we as public health professionals feel are pertinent in order to have healthy people, which also leads to a healthy country overall, not only in in our physical health but our mental health and our hopefully economic health, too.
You can find out more about ASTHO's Senior Leader Reserve Corps by checking the link in the show notes.
Thanks for listening to Public Health Review.
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This show is a production of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
For Public Health Review. I'm Robert Johnson. Be well.