PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE July 2020
To Our Vermont Public Health Association Members and Colleagues:
These are concerning times for the public’s health. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the critical need for a robust and comprehensive national and international multi sector response. In Vermont, we have been successful to date in containing the virus, due to our data driven response from our state’s leadership, our concerned Vermont citizens, and also our skilled and committed public health workforce.
In addition to the major public health crisis due to COVID-19, the Vermont Public Health Association (VtPHA) recognizes the recent events that are in response to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minnesota. These Black lives lost due to police violence reflect the deep and ongoing “pandemic” of racism that permeates our society and blocks any effort to build equitable societal systems of health and wellness for Black Americans. Nationally, many peaceful protests are highlighting the anger over the traumatic legacy of centuries of systemic racism in our country. We encourage all our members and colleagues to become actively involved in this watershed moment by working as public health professionals to address structural racism and move us forward to a society that is equitable for all. I also refer you to the 2018 American Public Health Association’s statement on Addressing Law Enforcement Violence as a Public Health Issues.
These issues illustrate the effects of the imperfect political and social-economic systems that negatively affect the public’s health. Public health professionals need to continue to push for policies that reflect basic social justice tenets such as accessible and affordable quality health care, healthy communities, and they myriad of other issues that, if implemented, will support a healthy population. In addition, the ongoing crisis caused by climate change underlies and negatively affects all population health issues.
The COVID-19 pandemic response has severely tested our medical services and public health workforce capacity. But we are resilient and, under our state leadership, will continue our intense efforts to keep the coronavirus contained. However, the pandemic response is highlighting our nation’s limited public health capacity to fully respond to this pandemic and all ongoing public health threats. The American Public Health Association has expressed this concern as a signatory to a June 2020 letter to Congress urging significant and long term investment in public health infrastructure.
A key way to tackle these major public health issues is to get involved in your Vermont Public Health Association. Our Board has begun the process of assisting members for more active engagement. We also encourage new members who are involved in the broad array of public health related professions to join us. In order to increase certain member services, our Board is presently firming up plans to create a more fully functioning website, organizing member benefits, and creating further programming that serves the professional needs of our members.
I strongly urge everyone to either join or become more active in our American Public Health Association (APHA). During this past spring, the APHA has rolled out several webinars on key pressing public health issues. The COVID-19 Conversations are available twice monthly, offered through a partnership between APHA and the National Academy of Medicine. This series features national experts discussing the latest data and research on the corona virus. Additionally, APHA is offering the Advancing Racial Equity series that explores racism as a major root cause of health inequities. The information on all these webinars is at www.apha.org. Nationally, APHA will have its annual meeting on October 24 – 28. This year’s virtual formal will offer an incredible opportunity to access all sessions online that will be accessible well beyond the dates of the meeting. The theme of this year’s meeting is, Creating the Healthiest Nation: Preventing Violence and presenting research and programming that is so timely with our recent national events of racism and violence.
Using the three key elements of our VtPHA Strategic Plan, I’d like to summarize how we at the VtPHA have carried out our work over the past year and our plans for this coming year:
Strengthen Public Health Practice:
- · We recognize our partners at the UVM Vermont Student Assembly for Public Health (VSAPH). Many thanks to Madison Shaffer, a VtPHA Board member who is a recent graduate of UVM, for forming this group several years ago. The VSAPH is designed to cultivate a student community for those interested in public health and to create opportunities for students to work in public health projects and become engaged in related issues. The VSAPH is also formally recognized by the APHA. We want to expand our collaboration with the VSAPH and to consider using this model to create similar groups on other Vermont college campuses.
- · We continue to strengthen our partnership with the New Hampshire Public Health Association (NHPHA). This fall, we will hold our fourth Health Equity: Team Up Take Action conference in collaboration with the NHPHA and Dartmouth Hitchcock. This year the conference will be held virtually – the planning is just beginning so stay tuned. The goal of this conference is to support public health and community organizations to further instill health equity principles in their programs and services.
- · The VtPHA is organizationally connected to the Vermont Public Health Institute and we have created various plans to increase collaboration over the past years. Presently, under a grant from the Vermont Department of Health and the New England Public Health Training Institute, we are working on public health workforce supports and resiliency.
- · We have continued our collaboration with the Vermont Climate Health Alliance and their Executive Director, Dan Quinlan. Our recent actions have been minimal due to the pandemic, however, we as an organization have supported the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act that requires Vermont to meet specified gas pollution levels.
- · We held a policy breakfast in Montpelier in December 2019. This served to promote communication with our public health colleagues on legislative and policy issues and provided a forum to support collaboration on key issues. We intend this to continue as an annual event and are working to provide more solid follow up to support our partners through the legislative session.
- · During National Public Health Week (NPHW) (held annually during the first week of April) we prepared issue briefs for outreach on specific topics as designated by APHA. Since NPHW unexpectedly happened during the intense time of the COVID-19 pandemic response, we messaged each issue brief as defined by the Vermont pandemic response. VtPHA received a small grant from APHA to accomplish this work and we owe many thanks to Katie Bocchino, our VtPHA Operations Manager, for the writing and posting of the pieces. Katie also insured the statewide distribution of two letters to the editor describing the role of public health during NPHW.
- · We acted as a community research partner with the UVM Larner College of Medicine (LCOM) for the research project designed to assess state legislators’ knowledge and approaches to teen marijuana use. This coming fall, we will again submit a research proposal to the LCOM.
Build a Public Health Movement:
- · We continue to work to improve our infrastructure and organizational capacity, relying on the expertise on our Board and the skills of our Operations Manager, Katie Bocchino. For the coming year, under the leadership of our new Executive Board as lead by President Joyce Gallimore, we will concentrate on increasing programming and member services, recruiting individual and organizational membership, and improving our social media outreach. This summer we are creating a comprehensive communications plan including strategies for a series of webinars, newsletters, and other means of informing and involving our members.
Align Organizational Capacity and Infrastructure/Cross Cutting:
- · We are pleased to welcome several new members to our Board this year. These individuals are adding new perspectives, ideas, and skill sets to an already talented crew. At the same time, we extend our deepest gratitude to our past Board members whose input, energy, and wisdom have set the stage for our future growth as an organization.
- · Burt Wilcke, UVM Associate Professor Emeritus, continues as our representative to the APHA New England Region of the American Public Health Association’s Council of Affiliates. Burt is also our Affiliate Representative to the Governing Council of APHA and is always looking for ways in which we can reciprocally benefit from our connection with APHA, through advocacy, membership, and partnerships.
- · Katie Bocchino continues in her role as our part time Operations Manager. Katie’s expert assistance in high level management for our organization has been invaluable in increasing our efficiency and efficacy as a small nonprofit.
- · Over this past year, the membership voted to approve several Bylaws revisions, which created new membership categories and also established the position of President Elect (rather than Vice President).
This is a time of challenge for us who are concerned about the health of the public and who realize the urgency of supporting social justice for populations. I have been very proud to have served as your President for the past three years and now pass the baton to our new President, Joyce Gallimore, and President Elect, Ken Allen. I look forward to continuing on the Executive Board as Secretary. There is much important work to be done and I know we will have solid leadership from both Joyce and Ken.
Sally Kerschner, RN, MSN
Immediate Past President, VtPHA
Vermont Public Health Association