March 27, 2013
Jennifer Miller, 608-266-1683

Op-Ed: Thank a Public Health Hero - National Public Health Week is April 1-7

by Karen McKeown, RN, MSN Administrator of the Wisconsin Division of Public Health

MADISON-National Public Health Week is April 1-7, and it's a great time to applaud the work of our public health heroes who dedicate themselves to protecting and promoting the health of their communities.

In the mid-1800s, Dr. John Snow tracked down the cause of deadly cholera outbreaks to contaminated water and convinced local officials to remove the handle from a well's water pump to end an outbreak. Since that time, public health heroes have continued to work tirelessly to protect the health of their communities.

We have many public health heroes in Wisconsin who have followed in Dr. Snow's footsteps. Dr. Murray Katcher was named a public health hero last year. Early in his career as a pediatrician, Dr. Katcher was disturbed by how many cases he was treating where people were scalded with hot water from a faucet or shower. Like Dr. Snow, he searched for a way to prevent future injuries, and as a result of his efforts, state legislation and eventually industry-wide standards lowered the pre-set temperature for hot water heaters. Dr. Katcher also worked tirelessly during his distinguished career to advance health and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes for women and children.

There are other examples of Wisconsin heroes. Gretchen Sampson, Polk County Public Health Officer, was recognized nationally for building community partnerships, helping health departments work on gaining accreditation, and promoting professional development for the state's public health nurses. She received the 2012 Milton and Ruth Roemer Prize for Creative Local Public Health Work from the American Public Health Association.

This year, the West Allis Health Department became the first health department in Wisconsin, and one of only 11 health departments nationwide, to achieve national accreditation status by demonstrating accountability, efficiency and effectiveness, and continuous quality improvement.

There are also thousands of unsung public health heroes. These are the professionals who plan ahead to meet health needs during emergencies and disasters; who work with food establishments to help prevent foodborne illness; who strive to reduce the impact of communicable diseases like influenza and pertussis through immunization; who collaborate to create communities where families can make healthy choices, and where babies are born with healthy futures ahead of them; and so much more.

Both here in Madison, and in my travels around the state, I have met these heroes. They work long hours, with limited and uncertain resources, and face difficult challenges. Because their efforts so frequently solve problems and avert crises, their successes may receive little notice. Yet I have been struck by their passion for their work and their determination to make things better. So during National Public Health Week especially, I encourage you to join me in thanking our public health heroes.