Health Officer, Benton-Franklin Health District
Number of employees you oversee: The Benton-Franklin Health District employs almost 95 individuals, although with the Covid-19 response, there are additional temporary staff assisting with contact tracing and data management. I engage with all staff, but my role is not supervisory.
Brief background of your organization:
For the last eight months, BFHD has been primarily been engaged in the Covid-19 pandemic response.
The BFHD has been serving Benton and Franklin counties since 1946. Public health in the broadest sense works with the community to ensure that all of us can learn, work, play and thrive to our greatest potential. The role of the BFHD and public health has evolved over time.
We’re working collectively and strategically with community partners, not just in health care, but in education, business and grassroots coalitions to eliminate the barriers that keep people from being healthy. BFHD’s work includes immunizations, inspecting food establishments, partnering with new mothers through intensive visiting home nurse programs, working with local municipalities to increase walkability or building community resiliency to address adverse childhood experiences.
How did you land your current role?
Fortune smiled, I was looking for new opportunities when the position became available.
How long have you been in it?
Why should the Tri-Cities care about public health?
Health impacts all areas of our lives. Healthy families, healthy workforces, healthy neighborhoods and healthy environments improve length of life and more importantly, quality of life. One dollar spent on community health saves $5.50 in health care costs so it’s a wise investment as well.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
Thick skin – you need to be able to focus on your goals and not take criticism or bad press personally.
What is the biggest challenge facing business owners/managers today?
In public health, one of the biggest issues is succession planning as many public health leaders are nearing or passing retirement age.
If you had a magic wand, what would you change about your industry?
Sustainable funding for public health to address the systemic, preventable issues that keep people from achieving their highest level of health.
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
Be strong enough to be vulnerable. Too often people feel that they are giving up power if they ask for help or admit their mistakes.
Who are your role models or mentors?
My mother – her journey as a woman and person of color moving up in the field of nuclear chemistry 60 years ago has helped me overcome adversity and racism as well.
How do you keep your employees motivated?
I believe that everyone can rise to their potential if they feel supported by their leadership and if they know they have permission to fail during that journey.
How did you decide to pursue a career in public health?
Throughout my two decades in medicine, I became increasingly aware of how much health was impacted by where people lived, not just their physical but also their social and emotional environment. Public health allows me to make a lasting contribution.
How do you measure success in your workplace?
Measuring success in public health requires a long-range view. Improving access to safe places to walk to healthy foods will reduce rates of obesity and diabetes, but not overnight, or a year or even five years.
What do you consider your leadership style to be?
The principles of servant leadership resonate with me. I consider empathy and listening to be my key assets.
How do you balance work and family life?
I’ve always been happiest working several jobs; making a difference in the world is what gives me reason to wake up every morning. Knowing that about myself, I chose not to pursue a family life.
What do you like to do when you are not at work?
Improve my Mandarin language skills by watching Chinese soap operas on Netflix.
What’s your best time management strategy?
Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.
Best tip to relieve stress?
I enjoy yoga as it helps me to center myself and keeps me aware of my body and when stress is starting to take its toll.
What’s your favorite book?
My favorite book is usually which ever one I’m reading now, but with the Covid-19 response, it’s been several months since I’ve had the time.
Do you have a personal mantra, phrase or quote you like to use?
Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
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