Section Chief, Health Response & Licensure Section
North Dakota Department of Health
Where were you on 9/11? Were you part of the emergency response?
At that time, I was the North Dakota (ND) Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Division Director. I was returning to Bismarck to take a flight to Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC, for an EMS meeting. I did not have the car radio on. I received a phone call from our lead administrative assistant with the shocking news. I was placed on alert and in a state of readiness through our emergency management system, but no actual public health and medical response occurred.
What was your introduction to public health preparedness? How did you get involved with PHEP?
The ND EMS Division is in the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH). As the ND EMS Division Director, I had a role in coordinating state and local public health and medical responses.
I got involved with PHEP when the ND state health officer asked me to take a leadership role in developing and implementing programs for PHEP and the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP).
What do you do on a day-to-day basis related to PHEP activities?
I am responsible for establishing strategic direction of PHEP activities. I work to successfully integrate activities with federal, state, and local public health agencies and medical systems. I also coordinate with governmental agencies and interface with governmental and private sector officials.
To accomplish this, I meet with and assist NDDoH PHEP program managers and staff and other staff and managers internal and external to the NDDoH at the federal, state, and local levels. I work with them to develop, review, and approve strategies, reports, and budgets.
Over your career, what changes have you seen in PHEP? How has public health preparedness evolved?
There are so many changes, but I think the most important is the recognition that the PHEP program cannot just be a planning program. To be successful, response has to be a major component of the program.
How has PHEP supported preparedness in your jurisdiction? What’s the most significant impact PHEP has made in terms of your jurisdiction’s ability to respond to a public health threat?
The PHEP program has been the mechanism to develop, implement, and maintain three essential components of the public health emergency response system. They are
- development and implementation of statewide standardized planning and response protocols,
- availability and distribution of sufficient and appropriate public health and medical supplies, equipment, and pharmaceuticals, and
- enough appropriately trained and available public health and medical responders.
Reflecting on your career in public health emergency preparedness, what accomplishments are you most proud of?
I am most proud of being part of a team that created a single, statewide planning and response system to integrate local, state, and public health with emergency management and the medical system. This system consists of statewide tactical communications, common operating procedures, situational awareness, public health and medical equipment, supply and pharmaceutical caches, just-in-time and other training, North Dakota Medical Reserve Corps availability, and public health and medical incident command systems.
Other than COVID-19, what public health emergency response experience stands out in your memory and why?
In 2009, extensive flooding occurred in Fargo, North Dakota. The flooding compromised public health and caused large-scale evacuation of almost all hospital patients and long-term care residents. It was the first major response since implementation of the PHEP and HPP programs.
The response proved the effectiveness of the PHEP program. The impact of PHEP program improvements was clear when this response was contrasted with the public health and medical responses to a similar emergency in 1997 in North Dakota.
How do you maintain momentum and prevent personal burnout in the preparedness field? How do you do the same for your team?
We are privileged to serve in a field that has tremendous impact on the people when they are most vulnerable. We are inspired by the dedication and commitment of our federal, state, and local public health and medical partners. I am reminded of that old saying, “Do a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”