Visiting Wake County Health Department

Last Thursday, Anna Schenck, PHD, director of our Public Health Leadership Program and the North Carolina Institute for Public Health and associate dean for practice, and I visited Sue Lynn Ledford, RN, MPA, director of the Wake County Health Department. A large urban health department like Wake County is ground zero for public health. They are responsible for an alphabet soup of problems and challenges–from animal bites, infant and maternal health to restaurant inspections and sewer systems to vaccinations. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. With an increasing population of people who lack insurance and health care, demands are increasing while resources decrease. Health department mandates are increasing too. For example, now, they’re involved in decision-making about new roads, because how roads are built can affect walkability of neighborhoods. That, in turn, influences levels of obesity in communities.

Since so much of daily life comes back to public health, health departments are microcosms of society. I have never worked in a health department, although I spent a lot of time observing Pennsylvania health departments for a project on smoking among low-income young women. I really admire our public health workforce. The best directors, and we have a number of them in N.C., Sue Lynn among them, are smart, adaptable, imaginative, able to do more with less and incredibly collaborative. They work really hard for salaries that are far below their levels of responsibility. Anna Schenck brings a real understanding of public health departments, having worked in Guilford County. We are trying to reach out to our health departments and see if we can do an even better job of working with them to achieve mutual goals.

It’s always a challenge to break loose a chunk of day for visits, but I always am glad afterward. Happy Monday! Barbara

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