By Tara Lutz, MPH, CHES, NACCHO Health and Disability Fellow
As a NACCHO fellow I had the opportunity to attend one conference or national meeting that aligned with the focus of the Health and Disability Fellowship program. I chose the Preparedness Summit, a conference annually coordinated by a NACCHO-led coalition, which is nationally recognized as both the first and longest running national event exclusively about public health preparedness. In fact, it is the largest conference of the year for NACCHO and convenes nearly 1,000 emergency preparedness professionals representing local, state, and federal agencies across the public and private sectors. In addition to an opportunity to engage with such a diverse portion of the public health workforce, the 2017 Summit theme, “Forces of Change,” was equally appealing.
The Preparedness Summit was an ideal culmination of my fellowship experience. Before I came to NACCHO, my background in public health and disability was primarily based in my role as a Certified Health Education Specialist and my doctoral research. Not only was I largely unfamiliar with the world of local public health and inclusive emergency preparedness, neither topic was on my “professional” radar, so to speak. However, as a fellow, the more time I spent assisting local health departments, and gaining exposure to the multifaceted area of emergency preparedness, the more I developed a sincere interest and appreciation for the role of local public health preparedness in disability inclusion. As a result, the Preparedness Summit was an opportunity to see all the resources and concepts I learned over the past six months really come to life. More importantly, it was a chance for me, a technical assistance provider, to now learn from partners in public health at the local level. Terms I have read about and provided resources on such as “open PODs, closed PODs, access and functional needs and CMIST” were now the topics of full presentations and discussions.
Professionals from local health departments and districts large and small, urban and rural, gathered at the Summit ready to learn and exchange innovative ideas collectively aiming to enhance resilience and safety in their own communities and for the entire nation. This mutual urgency to engage in communication across the preparedness field became particularly palpable during the Zika Virus Town Hall (pictured above). The session brought together speakers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Florida State, Puerto Rico, and New York City to discuss ongoing response efforts to assess, address, and prevent Zika transmission and the corresponding life-threatening disability, Microcephaly. In addition to sharing effective resources and strategies, the Town Hall’s presenters also emphasized the potential to bolster national Zika response through increased collaboration across local and state response agencies. The CDC’s US Zika Pregnancy Registry was spotlighted as one way to lessen the risk of Microcephaly. This recently developed tool enables local, state, tribal, and territorial health departments to report health implications of Zika infection in pregnant women and their babies directly to the CDC. Ultimately, the aim is to use this date to better inform national decisions on healthcare needs and prevention methods.
In addition to enhancing communication, funding stability and bipartisan support were at the forefront of conversation throughout the Summit. By the final day, two things were abundantly clear. First, inadequate or inconsistent funding coupled with a growing decline in bipartisanship make up the most persistent and significant barriers to advancing the future of public health preparedness. Second, in order to overcome both challenges, public health professionals must seek out training and peer networking opportunities, while also striving to meaningfully engage public and private sector partners.
Overall, attending the Preparedness Summit left me feeling informed and inspired to take the next step in my professional journey. Spending four days immersed in local public health and emergency preparedness further reinforced these areas as a critical piece of serving the disability community. The experience also allowed me to broaden my professional network and gain expert level insight on issues impacting the future of public health.
To learn more about NACCHO’s Health and Disability Fellowship, please visit our Health and Disability webpage. NACCHO is currently recruiting fellows for our upcoming 2017-18 cohort, interested applicants are encouraged to view the fellowship flyer and the position description for additional details about the program and instructions on how to apply.
The NACCHO Health and Disability Fellowship is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Cooperative Agreement #5NU38OT000172-04-00 and the Disability and Health program.