Hoppin’ John

Secretary of Health Wiesman on his busy summer helping to strengthen the foundations of public health

Wow! It’s hard to believe fall is here! With multiple trips to Atlanta and a few days of personal vacation squeezed in, my summer flew by. This post is a reflection of my summer travels to national meetings and a look ahead at important events coming this fall. Being present at these events is an opportunity to hear about innovative work others are doing — how might this work advance our own? — and let me share the work we do at DOH for others to learn and benefit from.


In June, I presented the keynote address to the Washington State Association of Local Public Health Officials Annual Conference with Dr. Umair Shah from Texas’ Harris County. The discussion focused on the public health of the future. I spoke of the dream that All Washingtonians have access to a stable core set of high-quality public health services. To get there, I discussed seven things we need to work on:

  • Promote our success and point out how we fall short. We need to demonstrate the difference we make and that an investment in public health is a wise investment. While at the same time, we have to point out where we are falling short. I call this investing in winners, not whiners.
  • Demonstrate that public health and population health is personal, and do that through storytelling.
  • Focus on the three pillars for population health: clinical to community services, health equity and the social determinants of health, and data analytics and public health informatics.
  • Embrace the role of chief health strategist (aligning partners towards a shared vision of community wellness).
  • Develop and invest in technology, tools, and data that make a difference.
  • Identify metrics for success as outlined in the state health assessment.
  • Work with others to adequately fund this work.

We must build upon the opportunities in front of us: the $12 million one-time investment the legislature made in foundational public health services, the funds available with the Medicaid demonstration project through Health Care Authority, and the upcoming development of the State Health Improvement Plan.

At the top of Valley Medical Center

Also in June, I presented Valley Medical Center with the gold-level Baby-Friendly Hospital Award, recognizing their dedication to a breastfeeding-friendly culture. While there, I visited the rooftop to see the pride flag raised to celebrate the Center’s seventh year qualifying as a leader in the LGBTQ Healthcare Equality Index. Both of these designations are important for increasing equity within our healthcare system. I commend the administrators and health professionals for achieving these accomplishments!

June also provided the opportunity to present to AcademyHealth’s Public Health Systems Research Interest Group in Seattle. These leaders are working to enhance the U.S. public health system through evidence-based practices. I’m excited to see the future work of this interest group.

Finally, I had the chance to talk with senior deputies and legislative liaisons from many state health departments at an Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) meeting in Washington D.C. I spoke of the opioid response and prevention work that is happening across the country.


In July I attended the annual meeting for National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) in New Orleans. Local health jurisdictions are key partners in promoting health across the state. I presented on the importance of succession planning as a way to unleash the power of the public health workforce and attended several sessions, including one on supporting new employees.

I’m honored to serve on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) subcommittee for State, Tribal, Local, and Territorial Support. At that meeting I participated in two think tanks: one on social and structural determinants of health and the other on public health surveillance. CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield met with us to share his priorities, which include ending HIV transmission, improving public health surveillance data, and tackling the opioid epidemic. While there, I had a chance to share our state’s work in ending HIV.


At the ASTHO Leadership Institute in August, I presented our state’s work on the threat of gun violence to the public’s health. While mass shootings are more commonly shown in the media, and still a major problem within our society, they don’t account for the largest number of firearm deaths. For example, in Washington in 2017, three-quarter of firearm deaths were from suicide. With dedicated support from Governor Inslee, community partners, and fellow state agencies, we are a part of the effort implementing the Washington State Suicide Prevention Plan to guide policy, financial, legislative, and programmatic change to address suicide prevention.

With Dr. Hilary Godwin, Dean of the UW School of Public Health

In mid-August I met with Dr. Hilary Godwin, the new dean of the UW School of Public Health, and with leadership from the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice. We discussed our continuing efforts to build the agency as an Academic Health Department, which is the affiliation of a health department and an academic institution that trains future health professionals.

Presenting at NACCHO/CDC in Atlanta

August also included a few days at the Public Health Informatics Conference held by CDC and NACCHO. I learned about work happening around the country on data interoperability. As one of the closing plenary speakers, I shared how we use data to improve population health in the areas of opioids, syndromic surveillance, lead, and HIV/AIDS.

In addition to personal and business travel, the summer was filled preparing for 2019’s legislative session. Tobacco21 and Foundational Public Health Services continue to be our top policy requests, along with modernizing STD and vital statistics statutes. There will be much more to come on our legislative work, so stay tuned.

And into the fall

The next several months promise more exciting work, such as promoting our legislative and budget priorities and continuing our efforts on the State Health Improvement Plan. This week (October 15–17) I attended the Washington State Public Health Association Conference in Wenatchee. I participated in a town hall discussion on how far public health has come and where we’re headed and hosted a breakout session on access to contraceptive care. Many public health advocates and partners were in attendance, and I learned much chatting with you.

You can also find me on Twitter @WaHealthSec.

Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta

On a personal travel note

While in Atlanta, I visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights, which was quite powerful. The most impactful was an experiential exhibit where you sit at a lunchroom counter, put on headsets, close your eyes, and place your hands on the counter, and are told to stay calm. It simulates the Greensboro Four who held a civil rights sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter. Then you hear audio of protesters coming up from behind — screaming at, berating, and pounding on the counter to provoke violence. It was terrifying — my heart was beating so hard and I was sweating profusely. If you ever get a chance to visit the Center, I highly recommend it.

Silver is the new gold

I also toured the CNN headquarters in Atlanta. It was quite fascinating to see what goes into producing content for the many CNN programs across the world. The large number of employees working on gathering news, from production to delivery, is quite an elaborate process. And we got to watch in the studio about 10 minutes of their morning show.

John Wiesman, DrPH, MPH, is the Washington State Secretary of Health.

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