Outgoing Membership Committee Chair Winifred Holland Reflects on Her 30-Year Career in Public Health

Winifred M. Holland, MPH, MA, LMHC, retired public health officer, spent more than 30 years in local public health. She has served as an Administrator at Bradford County Health Department, Union County Health Department, and Clay County Health Department the last 10 years of her career. She also worked at various other health departments during her career in Florida, including Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough, Polk, Sarasota, Lee, Hendry, Glades, Collier, and Manatee, and served as a regional manager covering multiple health departments.

More recently, she worked as a clinician and project manager for Clay Behavioral Health Center in Middleburg, FL. She also served as chair of NACCHO’s Membership Committee from June 2013 to October 2018. Below, she discusses the changes to the field she has witnessed during her career, shares the most notable recent accomplishments of the Membership Committee, and compares the work of local health departments and behavioral health centers.

With over 30 years spent in the public health field, you have likely witnessed certain shifts and changes in the field. What are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in public health?

When I began my career in this field, all the directors of the health departments were physicians; that changed around 20 years ago. That was a big paradigm shift, at least in Florida. Additionally, there are a great deal more leadership opportunities for women in public health.

Also, the use of technology has advanced tremendously, both from the clinical perspective and from the epidemiological perspective. We get information so much more quickly. The information is also much more precise, which makes it easier to address community health issues like the Zika virus or Ebola, especially from a global perspective.

There has been a great deal of increased visibility in public health, especially during disasters. I know we always say, “Well, nobody knows what public health does,” but public health is certainly embraced during disasters. Public health preparedness was barely in the realm when I first entered the field and now there is a big emphasis on it at the local level.

I have a master’s degree in epidemiology, so for me things like the Ebola crisis really brought home the global perspective that we have now in public health. No matter where you live in the world, you are affected by those kinds of situations, even at the local level. We had to do surveillance and home visits for people that had been in areas of the world where they had outbreaks of Ebola.

On the whole, there have been lots of changes for the better that help us address the needs of health in communities.

You’ve recently completed a five-year term as chair of NACCHO’s Membership Committee. What would you say is the most notable action that has come out of your tenure leading the committee?

I am most proud of our development of the New Member Breakfast at NACCHO Annual. It has really expanded and gotten more popular each year. I think it has really helped the people that are new to the NACCHO Annual Conference learn what is going on and it gives folks the opportunity to meet other people during their first day there.

When I was first a member of the committee, we decided it was a good idea to start having members contact people whose memberships had lapsed. I believe that has been a really good way for us to communicate the importance of NACCHO from our perspective, not just from the staff.

Although you no longer serve as chair of NACCHO’s Membership Committee, what are some things that you hope to see come out of this group?

I’d like for us to be able to engage our new members more. Providing more mentorship opportunities or helping them navigate the website is something I would like to see come out of this group. The time that I spent serving on the committee really enhanced my ability to do my job. It taught me what was going on—not just in my local counties but also on the national level. If we could do some more engagement early and on an ongoing basis, I think that would be helpful. I know the committee is looking to get more people engaged.  I am still serving on the committee and appreciate the opportunity to continue to have input.

How can NACCHO remain relevant to its members in the future?

NACCHO is very good at is listening to its members. Most of my career, I worked in what would be considered small rural health departments. The Rural Health Section that NACCHO recently developed is an absolutely wonderful idea. Most of the counties in this country are small counties and it’s important for those residents to have their voices heard and their issues brought to the forefront.

Small rural counties don’t have the same issues as the big cities, so I think the development of the Big Cities Health Coalition was very valuable too. Listening to the members and developing resources and programs from those listening sessions is helpful for local public health officials.

As someone who has worked in a local health department and has now retired from a behavioral health center, what would you say are the main differences between working at both agencies?

To me, public health includes behavioral health because if you’re going to look at the whole person, you must also look at their mental health status. I know in many parts of the country, behavioral health and public health are blended together and that’s a great thing.

I became a mental health counselor because of my work in public health. From my perspective, behavioral health and public health have so much in common. We want to help people be a part of the community in a positive way. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has grants called Primary Behavioral Health Care Integration, which are given to agencies to blend primary care and mental health services for people that have mental health issues. People with serious mental health issues have a 25-year less life expectancy, but it’s not because of their mental health; it’s because their regular medical issues, such as diabetes or hypertension, are not addressed. Those kinds of grants have really tried to bring the two entities together to look at the whole person.

I always used to say health doesn’t stop at the neck. The head is an important part of the body. If you don’t deal with the mental health issues, it’s going to be difficult to get the behavior changes that you need to be able to have optimum health for people.

Whether you have a behavioral health center in your health department or not, you should be working very closely with your community mental health agencies—which I did when I was a health officer— because there are so many things that you can do together to improve the overall health status of the community.

In the last county I worked in, the number one issue on our community health improvement plan was mental health. Both entities have many similar goals. We just have to work together in order for us both to have optimum success.

What do you look forward to the most in retirement?

Well, actually I am going to continue to work one day a week as a counselor at Clay Behavioral Health Center because I love helping people, but the majority of my time will be spent working with the Florida Kiwanis Foundation. Kiwanis is a worldwide organization that focuses on children. We sponsor service learning programs from elementary school (K-Kids), middle school (Builders Club), high school (Key Club), college (CKI), and the developmentally disabled adults (ACKTION Club) to help young people develop their leadership skills and give back to their communities.

I will be working with the foundation that we have in Florida and traveling around the state to promote the things that we do like give scholarships to kids and give grants to local clubs. I plan to reconnect with friends that I haven’t seen for many years.