Category Archives: George T. Roberts Jr.

Public Health Transformational Leader Reena Chudgar Shares Advice on How to Develop and Successfully Implement Innovative Ideas

By George T. Roberts, Jr., MHA, FACHE, NACCHO President and Chief Executive Officer of the Northeast Texas Public Health District

Reena Chudgar, MPH, is Director of Innovation at the Public Health National Center for Innovations (PHNCI). Reena joined PHNCI in April 2019 with more than 13 years of experience in public health. Prior to joining PHNCI, Reena served as Director for Performance Improvement at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). During her time at NACCHO, she provided support to local health departments (LHDs) and their public health system partners in community health assessments and community health improvement plans, quality improvement/performance management, strategic planning, and helped LHDs prepare for national accreditation.

Additionally, Reena provided strategic direction and management for the Performance Improvement Portfolio. Prior to joining NACCHO, Reena worked with the Millennium Water Alliance at CARE USA, interned with the DeKalb County Board of Health in Georgia, and conducted research in Ghana, all of which focused on water, sanitation, and hygiene initiatives. Earlier, Reena served as a Health and Community Development Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Kiribati, where she designed and implemented several grassroots health and education programs, assessed and prioritized community needs, and strengthened local economic and social capacity. Reena received a Master of Public Health degree and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Emory University.

Below, she discusses her leadership role at PHNCI and shares advice on how an organization can develop innovative ideas and successfully implement them.

Can you tell us about PHNCI and your role as Director of Innovations?

At PHNCI, we are exploring and spreading innovations within governmental public health and with the partners and communities they work, to tackle some of the complex, systems issues that communities face today, to ultimately support efforts towards achieving optimal health and equity. Being situated at the national level, and as a division of the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) provides a nice vantage point for this—learning about examples and strategies at a variety of levels to inform the national movement and inform the accreditation program. A few ways we are doing this is through design thinking trainings, the Cross-Sector Innovation Initiative—supporting 10 communities in their innovations towards systems alignment—revisiting and refreshing the 10 Essential Public Health Services, supporting systems level changes, and our innovations stories. PHNCI also created a definition of public health innovation, with field input, to guide the field.

In my role, I am to broaden and strengthen PHNCI’s mission by supporting both the day-to-day implementation and the strategy around public health innovation. This occurs through expanding partnerships within and outside of public health organizations, implementing national level initiatives to move the field forward building the practice and evidence base through peer exchange, creating spaces for learning and growing, and more. I’m intrigued and excited by deepening my understanding around what makes interpersonal and community-level partnerships and engagement work, and not work, what it means to build trust, and to try to infuse those elements into my own work culture—both internally and externally. Building relationships is one of the most important aspects of my work, in addition to placing value on different perspectives, and different ways of being, doing and thinking.

How has your previous leadership position as Director for Performance Improvement at NACCHO informed your current work and role as Director at PHNCI?

As Director of the Performance Improvement team, I had the opportunity to strengthen a variety of different skill sets—from both the technical/content perspective and the project management, leadership, and strategy perspective. In this role, I noticed commonalities between building a culture of quality and those agencies that were building a culture of innovation. I had exposure to not just a wide variety of agencies and agency cultures, but of people—different front-line staff, leaders, and more—all with different perspectives, values and styles that help shape how the work occurs. In addition to the external facing work, I was responsible for internal management and leadership, developing and managing budgets, supervising and growing staff, and contributing to organizational leadership and strategy decisions. The wide range of activities and opportunity to grow both my technical and strategic skill set lent itself well to my new role with PHNCI.

What advice would you give to an organization that is interested in developing innovative ideas and successfully implementing them?

As agencies are deliberately thinking about innovation, it’s important to focus on both the organizational culture and people, and the outcomes or products of innovation processes. One does not occur well, and intentionally, without the other. It is not just about creating something new, but creating a culture, and fostering leadership that can support new ideas. Similar to building a culture of quality, innovation isn’t just an additional task added on to the day-to-day work. It requires a shift in the way we approach our work. It’s also important to recognize that innovation does not have to be radical, or disruptive innovation. Small scale innovation and incremental innovation are just as valuable. To build a culture of innovation, agencies should focus on empathy, which is at the heart of innovation. Agencies should take time to listen, understand, be human-centered in solutioning, ask the right questions, and spend time questioning.

For many in public health, this is at the heart of our mission, making connections with people and communities to understand and ultimately co-create meaningful and impactful solutions. Creating a culture where failing forward and risk-taking are the norm is another key ingredient. Failure is inevitable, and by making space for it, learning and improving, staff are more likely to continue taking risks moving forward. Trying out new ideas and prototyping early and often is a key aspect of innovation processes, including using agile approaches versus more traditional, waterfall approaches.

Creativity requires opportunity for staff and leaders to be imaginative in their everyday work—a way to think about what can be versus what has always been, and to shift perspective to open new ways of thinking.  Utilizing processes such as design thinking, is a structured way to innovate. These are a few essential ingredients to growing a culture that supports innovation. As communities expanded their innovation cultures, it’s important to share what works and where there are challenges. It’s important to tell the stories of innovation to grow the field, and make connections between individuals, agencies, communities, and systems to tackle some of the complex systems issues our communities are facing today.

Read more about PHNCI at or contact Reena at

To share your story of transformational leadership or to recommend a leader to be highlighted, please contact Taylarr Lopez, NACCHO Communications Specialist, at    

Leader and Health Director, Melissa Lyon Discusses Important Partner Characteristics and Shares Her Hopes for Public Health Leadership

By George T. Roberts, Jr., MHA, FACHE, NACCHO President and Chief Executive Officer of the Northeast Texas Public Health District

Melissa C. Lyon, MPH, leads Pennsylvania’s Erie County Department of Health as Public Health Director. While earning her Master’s in Public Health, Ms. Lyon worked as a site manager for Great Lakes Medical Research, a clinical research site located in Westfield, NY. She spent nine years at Chautauqua County Health Department in New York working in various public health positions including, environmental health and inspections, health promotion and education, public health emergency preparedness, and community collaboration and coalition building.

Below, she discusses the current goals for her health department, highlights important factors to consider when partnering with other organizations, and shares her hope for public health leadership in Erie County. Continue reading

Professor and Chair of the CDC Foundation’s Board of Directors, Dr. Leah Devlin Shares the Biggest Risk She’s Taken as a Leader and the Greatest Reward

By George T. Roberts, Jr., MHA, FACHE, NACCHO President and Chief Executive Officer of the Northeast Texas Public Health District

Leah Devlin, DDS, MPH, currently serves as a Professor of the Practice in the Department of Health Policy and Management at The Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was recently appointed to Chair of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation Board of Directors. Dr. Devlin has been a board member since 2012 and boasts over 30 years of experience in public health.

Dr. Devlin served as state health director in North Carolina from 2001 to 2009 and previously held positions as deputy state health director and health director for Wake County, NC. Additionally, Dr. Devlin has provided consultant services to RTI International, the Milbank Fund, and the Aspen Institute. Continue reading

Transformational Leader Dr. Rex Archer Shares Important Decisions He’s Made as Director of KCMO and Errors He’s Witnessed from Other Leaders

By George T. Roberts, Jr., MHA, FACHE, NACCHO President and Chief Executive Officer of the Northeast Texas Public Health District

Rex D. Archer, MD, MPH serves as the Director of Health for the City of Kansas City (KCHD), MO, and is also a past president of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). In 2017, KCHD was awarded the Samuel J. Crumbine Consumer Protection Award for Excellence in Food Protection for demonstrating unsurpassed achievement in providing outstanding food protection services to their community. Under Dr. Archer’s leadership, in 2018, KCHD earned NACCHO’s Local Health Department of the Year Award.  In the same year, Dr. Archer was awarded the Maurice “Mo” Mullet Lifetime of Service Award. KCHD has won several Model Practices Awards, showcasing their exemplary and replicable local public health programs. With the direction of Dr. Archer, KCHD became an accredited health department by the Public Health Accreditation Board and has been one of the first 13 LHD’s to be reaccredited. Continue reading

ADH Director Nate Smith Discusses his Leadership Style and Shares How He Plans to Lead as New ASTHO President

By George T. Roberts, Jr., MHA, FACHE, NACCHO President and Chief Executive Officer of the Northeast Texas Public Health District

Nate Smith, MD, MPH currently serves as the Director and State Health Officer for the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) and President of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. As champion for science, Dr. Smith provides evidence-based leadership for the department. Under his leadership, ADH provides over 100 services through 90 local health units to 75 counties. Dr. Smith oversees several services and programs including immunizations, WIC, preparedness and emergency response, chronic disease prevention, injury and violence prevention, suicide prevention, and outbreak response. Continue reading

Transformational Leader and Health Director Damon Chaplin Shares How He Motivates His Staff and Gives Advice on Being a Better Leader

By George T. Roberts, Jr., MHA, FACHE, NACCHO President and Chief Executive Officer of the Northeast Texas Public Health District

Damon Chaplin, MBA, serves as the Health Director of the City of New Bedford Health Department in Massachusetts and is a current NACCHO Board Member. He has previously provided statewide leadership as a Regional Director for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Mr. Chaplin has lead school inspection indoor air quality trainings for environmental health professionals at the Boston Public Health Commission. As a local business owner, Mr. Chaplin integrates his knowledge of strategic financial analysis into his department’s operations to ensure its financial stability. Continue reading

Transformational Leaders Inspire Communities at the Local Level to Improve Population Health

By George T. Roberts, Jr., MHA, FACHE, NACCHO President and Chief Executive Officer of the Northeast Texas Public Health District

I’m thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to serve as President of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) this year. For 25 years, NACCHO has served as the voice of local public health and NACCHO stands ready to help local public health professionals and their partners serve their communities. I see public health professionals as important transformational leaders as we unite our communities, address critical health issues, and work to improve population health. Continue reading