Category Archives: interview

NACCHO Annual 2018: Preview the Power of Collaboration—The Arizona Athlete Opioid Initiative

Interview by Taylarr Lopez, Communications Specialist, NACCHO

This entry is the first in a series of “NACCHO Annual preview” blog posts, which feature interviews with presenters ahead of NACCHO Annual 2018. Tracy Cruickshank, MBA, MSW, Manager for the Office of Healthcare Innovation at the Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH), will discuss her department’s Arizona Athlete Opioid Initiative, which was developed to prevent prescription opioid misuse among high school athletes, in her upcoming presentation, “The Power of Collaboration: The Arizona Athlete Opioid Initiative.” Below, she shares how and why this initiative was, how it expanded to include partners with much greater reach and influence over high school athletes, and the benefits of this collaborative effort.

Tell us about the burden of opioid misuse among high school athletes in your jurisdiction. What was the impetus for this program?

Among the many initiatives aimed at addressing the opioid epidemic in Maricopa County, none were focusing on preventing prescription opioid misuse among high school athletes, which is steadily rising. When the Arizona Interscholastic Association indicated to MCDPH that they thought this was an important issue to address, we began our work in this area by conducting qualitative research among former high school athletes, parents, athletic coaches, and medical providers to get a better understanding of how prescription opioids can affect this group. Findings included that high school athletes often have access to prescription opioids because of injuries and can feel pressure to get back into the game, which can lead to prescription opioid misuse. According the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, one study found that 8% of female athletes and 12% of male athletes reported abusing prescription painkillers in the past year. The study also mentioned that among high school athletes, football players have the highest rates of opioid misuse.1

How does the Arizona Athlete Opioid Initiative work with its partners to address opioid misuse?

The Arizona Athlete Opioid Initiative (AAOI) meets monthly to collaborate on developing curriculum and other content for student athletes, parents, and coaches that teaches opioid misuse prevention among high school athletes. These monthly meetings have been very helpful because as a new initiative, we do not have a roadmap for this work. We work with community partners including the Arizona Interscholastic Association, the Tempe Union High School District, and the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family to collaboratively leverage resources, areas of expertise, and access to the target audience.

One of the strategies of the AAOI has been to invite new partners to the table who have been interested in starting similar initiatives in our community. On multiple occasions, we have learned about groups interested in starting their own program focusing on prescription opioids and high school athletes, and we have worked to bring those groups to the table to collaborate to maximize our limited resources and reach.

What has been the most valuable resource developed or lesson learned through this initiative?

I think that the most valuable lesson learned through this initiative is how important it is to take the time to get the buy-in of organizations that can effectively and efficiently take an initiative to a target audience. Maricopa County is one of the largest public health jurisdictions in the United States, and MCDPH has only one person who is dedicated to addressing opioids in our community. If MCDPH were doing this alone and did not have an organization such as the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s support in this effort, we would not be able to reach nearly the number of high school athletes that we will be able to through this partnership. Access to our partners’ expertise and distribution system has been invaluable and has taken this initiative to another level.

What has been the reaction of the participants since the start of the program?

We have found that many people do not know what to do if a high school athlete has been injured and is prescribed opioids. We are still developing content for this initiative and continuing to test it with the intended audience and collect feedback. Once more data has been collected and evaluated, we will have a better understanding of how the community is responding to the initiative.

What advice can you offer to other local health departments who want to replicate the success of the program?

I would recommend that local health departments consider working with organizations that can reach high school athletes easily. Cooperation and support from our partners has been monumental to the implementation of this initiative. Partnering with other organizations that have the resources and the means to communicate to your target audience is key. Local health departments that would like additional information are more than welcome to reach out to us.

Have you ever attended NACCHO Annual? What are you most looking forward to at NACCHO Annual 2018?

I have attended NACCHO Annual twice before; in 2013 and 2017. I think that I am most looking forward to hearing about the real-life experiences of other health departments—their successes, challenges, and the lessons they have learned. All these things help us gain a better understanding of whether something might work in our community.

Interested in learning more about innovative initiatives like this one? View the full schedule, conference tracks, and objectives, and start making your plans to join hundreds of local public health professionals from across the nation for NACCHO Annual 2018. We look forward to seeing you and your team July 10–12 in New Orleans!



  1. HealthDay News. (2014). Abuse of Prescription Painkillers on the Rise Among High School Athletes: Survey.

NACCHO Annual 2018: Take a Glimpse into New Orleans Public Health

Interview by Taylarr Lopez, Communications Specialist, NACCHO

Torrie Harris, Dr.P.H., MPH is a Health & Equity Strategist at the New Orleans Health Department (NOHD). In the following post, she discusses her role within the department, shares how NOHD is addressing the public health burdens of maternal and infant issues and mental health, and highlights the fun things NACCHO Annual 2018 conference attendees can do during their visit to New Orleans.

What is your role within the New Orleans Health Department? What does a typical day look like for you?

I am the health and equity strategist and my role is to train and educate our workforce on equity and to develop an implementation strategy through the programs delivered through the department. I am currently working with our Information Technology and Service Innovation departments to develop a method for tracking and mapping social determinants of health. A lot of my time is spent doing community health outreach and also by working across departments throughout the city on health equity and health strategies. For example, I recently did a presentation to our Department of Public Works about health equity and the health in all policies approach. I’m also responsible for our violence prevention portfolio, which includes trauma-informed schools and our domestic violence initiative.

Please tell us about the community your department serves.

The department serves the entire population of Orleans Parish, while also collaborating with surrounding parishes. Like many local health departments across the country, NOHD transitioned from being mainly a health service delivery provider to a department with a stronger focus on health system improvement, health policy, and health promotion and programming. However, NOHD does operate one Federally Qualified Health Center, Healthcare for the Homeless Clinic (HCH), which offers primary care services to adults in the city of New Orleans and surrounding parishes regardless of ability to pay.

HCH also offers dental services to adults and children. The HCH site offers the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) program and other wrap-around services such as laboratory services, behavioral health, and a pharmacy. Additionally, NOHD provides support to low-income families through Healthy Start, a prenatal/postnatal health education program that offers free baby supplies, links to employment resources, individual and family counseling, and legal assistance.

Moreover, NOHD contributes to the monitoring and surveying of health ordinances that were established by our city council, such as our recent smoke-free and noise pollution ordinances.

What are some of the most pressing public health burdens your community is facing? How is your health department addressing those challenges?

The most pressing health priority is access to mental and behavioral health services, as there is limited access and a need for integration into the primary care health system. The city’s other most pressing public health burden is infant mortality. According to the March of Dimes, as of 2014, the infant mortality rate among African Americans is 9.8 per 1000. The department is also working to address opioid use through a prevention strategy program that is making strides in reducing the burden of misuse.

NOHD coordinates the Behavioral Health Council, which convenes behavioral and mental health agencies and professionals to achieve a high-functioning health system that works collaboratively to meet the needs of vulnerable populations across the life span. To address infant mortality, NOHD works with Healthy Start, WIC, and leverages partnerships with the National Birth Equity Collaborative and the New Orleans Breastfeeding Center.

The department uses a Health in All Policies approach to ensure residents have access to clean, safe, and affordable housing in the city. We work with different departments in the city to discuss equitable strategies and how housing relates to health. We use an equity lens to educate faculty, leadership, and area schools about managing trauma to reduce infections and improve the quality of life of the area’s students.

The department is working with police officers and other emergency personnel to better identity risk factors when responding to domestic violence and sexual assault calls. NOHD also has behavioral health programs that convene public health professionals across the city to develop a strategy for providing better mental health services.

We are working to mitigate the burden of obesity and chronic disease in our community by partnering with the city’s recreation department. Through this partnership, Fit NOLA was established; a residual of former United States First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. The program focuses on physical activity and nutrition, and offers classes to those interested in adopting or maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

What can other health departments learn from the work you are doing?

Events such as Hurricane Katrina, the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and subsequent Louisiana Medicaid Expansion, reshaped the structure and function our health department. NOHD now has a comprehensive and coordinated team that works alongside EMS, state emergency preparedness agencies, and all other health and safety response teams to assure preparation for potential disaster and respond swiftly. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina also precipitated the importance of community resilience and involvement.

New Orleans has nearly 72 neighborhoods with their own character, which community residents self-identified. Thus, understanding the culture and needs of each community has been the driving force in how NOHD plans and develops programs. Community resilience has been important to the sustainability of our city, as was seen in the recent election of our first female and African American mayor, LaToya Cantrell. Her passionate and genuine grassroots work as a city council member, where she developed a connection to the community by listening to their voices and concerns, led to her historic triumph. Mayor Cantrell also led the city to a smoke-free ordinance which includes bars and casinos.

New Orleans is a known for being a place to have a good time, but we are also serious about having a healthy quality of life for our families and children. It’s all about balance. Thus, NOHD has done a good job incorporating both in the work we do, which can be seen through our Fit NOLA program where we have public-private partnerships to encourage physical activity and healthy eating. This program offers free fitness programming, nutrition programs, and farmer’s market vouchers. NOHD also worked with the former administration to support Healthy Corner Store Initiatives. People in New Orleans know we are a unique city and with that notion, NOHD recognizes the need to really utilize community voice in everything we do. There is still much work to do, but NOHD is dedicated to making New Orleans a healthy city in addition to being a place where you can have a good time.

What are some fun things you recommend NACCHO Annual 2018 attendees do while in New Orleans?

I suggest going beyond Bourbon Street to see what else the city has to offer. People can take the street car to the Audubon Zoo. It is a very popular attraction. It’s beautiful and in the Uptown area of New Orleans. Visitors should also check out all of our wonderful New Orleans restaurants. I also recommend heading to Frenchman Street. It’s off the beaten path of Bourbon Street and not quite as risque. There you will also find artist markets and jazz clubs there that you can walk into for free.

City Park is where you’ll find the New Orleans Museum of Art, botanical gardens, and Morning Call, where you can eat beignets and drink café au lait. New Orleans is a very walkable city. You can walk almost anywhere from the conference location. For shopping, Magazine Street is a great place for boutiques and dining. You can eat your heart away in New Orleans and then walk it off!

To learn more about the New Orleans Health Department and the services it offers, visit their website.

The National Board of Public Health Examiners Celebrates its 10th Anniversary

Interview by Taylarr Lopez, Communications Specialist, NACCHO

The National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE) ensures public health professionals have the knowledge and skills relevant to the core areas of public health by administering a voluntary certification examination. Candidates who successfully pass the examination receive a Certification in Public Health (CPH), which demonstrates to employers that they have mastered key contemporary public health sciences. Now in its tenth year, NBPHE’s certification exam and resources are more relevant to the public health workforce than ever. Below, Allison Foster, MBA, CAE, President of the NBPHE, describes the benefits of being certified and highlights the resources candidates can use to help achieve certification. Continue reading

Member Spotlight: Health Director Joey Smith Highlights His Department’s Role as a “Choice Architect” and Describes His Hopes of Helping His Community Live One Million Years Longer

Interview by Taylarr Lopez, Communications Specialist, NACCHO

NACCHO’s Member Spotlight series features interviews with local health department leaders and staff about their careers in public health. This interview features Joey Smith, Health Director of the Montgomery County Health Department in Tennessee and NACCHO Board Member. Below he shares how his health department is bridging the gap to healthcare by providing primary care services and highlights the success of the department’s Healthier Streets & Neighborhoods program. Continue reading

Member Spotlight: Boston Public Health Commission Executive Director Monica Valdes Lupi Discusses the Evolution of Local Health Departments’ Role in Public Health and Her Path to Leadership

Interview by Taylarr Lopez, Communications Specialist, NACCHO

NACCHO’s Member Spotlight series features interviews with local health department leaders and staff about their careers in public health. This interview features Monica Valdes Lupi, JD, MPH, Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission (MA). She is also a member of NACCHO’s Board of Directors. Below, she shares what led her to become Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission and steps her department is taking to prepare for the future. Continue reading

Member Spotlight: Health Director Dr. Muntu Davis Discusses the Social Determinants of Health and Public Health’s Focus Shifting from Infectious to Chronic Disease

Interview by Taylarr Lopez, Communications Specialist, NACCHO

NACCHO’s Member Spotlight series features interviews with local health department leaders and staff about their careers in public health. This interview features Muntu Davis, MD, MPH, Director of the Alameda County Public Health Department in Oakland, CA. He is also a member of NACCHO’s Board of Directors. Below he shares how his health department works to address health disparities and the nation’s transition in public health priorities to address chronic disease. Continue reading

Member Spotlight: Health and Human Services Director Chris Dobbins Shares His Nontraditional Path into Public Health and Highlights the Success of the Gaston Youth Connected Program

Interview by Taylarr Lopez, Communications Specialist, NACCHO

NACCHO’s Member Spotlight series features interviews with local health department leaders and staff about their careers in public health. This interview features Christopher C. Dobbins, MPH, Director, Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services, in Gastonia, NC. He is also a member of NACCHO’s Board of Directors. Below he shares the challenges of navigating the health landscape during the uncertain future of the Affordable Care Act and the importance of public health awareness. Continue reading