The Consortium Core has selected Suzanne Cupal, Community Health Division Director of the Genesee County Health Department as our November member to spotlight.
We sat down with Ms. Cupal to discuss the ongoing work at GCHD to protect and promote the health of residents in our community, and the effects of COVID-19. The GCHD works to improve the quality of life for Genesee County residents by eliminating racial, social, and economic inequities by using prevention and intervention strategies that focus on underlying causes. Their vision of “Better Life Through Better Health” has never been more important than now.
In a recent move, the Michigan Supreme Court struck down Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s authority to extend a state of emergency without legislative approval, leaving it to local health departments to act within their authority under the Public Health Code and replace the executive order to fill in the gaps. This includes protective measures such as requiring masks while in public, in groups of 10 or more, and for restaurants to operate at 50% capacity in addition to other executive orders meant to mitigate the pandemic.
As a result, the implementation of such protective measures will be up to local health departments across Michigan. This is a significant move, as Ms. Cupal noted that years of budget cuts and severe underinvestment in public health have already made it challenging for local health departments to sustain their essential capabilities while simultaneously addressing the COVID-19 crisis. “For GCHD, COVID-19 has only compounded the effects of the ongoing water crisis, polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and the oncoming flu season. These other things just don’t go away because you have one crisis”.
Ms. Cupal emphasized that the work and practice of public health departments is hard and has been complicated by budget cuts. “I want people to recognize that public health is challenging to start with, but you are already at a disadvantage with budgets that have been cut to the bone and other lack of support. Compound that with a water crisis and a pandemic. The infrastructure can only take so much. I want to convey that it takes a village. We have to work with academia, with government and non-government entities. We have to educate lawmakers and work with philanthropic organizations because working as a multidisciplinary team is how we take care of the publics’ health. We cannot be divided and that is why FCHES is so important. We are in this together or not at all. If we aren’t finding common threads to work together then there is no point, that is why I am so excited to be here today.”
To continue this great work, Ms. Cupal emphasized the need for the health department to continue to partner with community members, academics and other community and state entities stating, “We are not in this alone and we cannot do everything. We must think differently. I realized the importance of multidisciplinary teams throughout the water crisis”. This is evident from the many partnerships the GCHD is involved in including, the Flint Community webinar series, hosted by the Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center (HFRCC). During these weekly webinars, Ms. Cupal fulfills an essential function of local health departments by educating and empowering the Flint community by informing audiences of new COVID-19 cases, local testing locations and passionately reminding our community to vote safely. Further, all information presented is accessible through the GCHD website, including surveillance data which is fundamental for a basic understanding of the pandemic including transmission rates, incubation periods and for monitoring hot spots.
We look forward to continuing our partnership with the GCHD to protect and promote the health of our community through the dissemination of accurate evidence-based information. The importance of translating academic evidence into practice and also practice back to academia is something Ms. Cupal touched on saying, “That is what this partnership with the FCHES is about.” Though this spotlight only offers a glimpse into the conversation we so enjoyed with Ms. Cupal, we hope the Michigan Supreme Court verdict highlights the critical role health departments play in a community’s response to emergencies and their continued work to improve population health.
August Member Spotlight: Clarence Pierce!
The Consortium Core has selected Clarence Pierce, CEO of Hamilton Community Health Network, as our member spotlight. Read how Mr. Pierce is making a difference as a leader of his organization throughout the pandemic.
During this unprecedented time, Mr. Clarence Pierce continues to lead and carry out the mission of Hamilton Community Health Network. As the state was shuttering and medical personnel were faced with uncertainty, Hamilton continued to provide comprehensive, quality care for the underserved – by staying flexible but prepared, following expert guidelines and prioritizing employee and patient safety.
When asked about his biggest lesson he and his team has learned from the pandemic, Mr. Pierce reminded us about the importance of remaining flexible and agile, and be sure to take advantage of new opportunities, even at a time of uncertainty. “When things like this happen, we must be versatile enough to continue providing services even under the most difficult of circumstances.”
As such, Hamilton implemented new medical services that continued to fulfill the needs of Hamilton patients and the community. For instance, a few weeks into the pandemic, Hamilton launched Telehealth Medicine services for Hamilton patients. Telehealth provided a safe avenue to treat patients at a time they weren’t comfortable coming into a clinic. Plus with a limited number of personal protection equipment (PPE) for staff, telehealth actually helped to protect the workers and patients. A few weeks later, Hamilton launched a texting initiative that allowed us to remind patients of COVID-19 testing options. Then Hamilton launched drive-thru testing at two clinics.
The ability to launch new medical services during a pandemic is often unheard of. But Mr. Pierce credits Hamilton’s overall emergency preparedness and the ability of staff to quickly adapt to the rapidly changing environment. “We had emergency plans in place, and those plans helped us to be prepared and allowed us to continue providing medical services. Those plans also helped to open the doors to new services, such as our drive-through testing.”
The pandemic also taught us about the importance of credible information. New information about the virus is still revealed daily, and yet back in the spring new information was being released every hour some days. But with so much information and experts’ opinions often differing, Mr. Pierce discussed the importance of consulting reliable sources. “The CDC provided most of our guidance, in addition to our local Health Department, State and our state association, the Michigan Primary Care Association. These mediums have helped us develop and follow the proper guidelines.”
When asked what he was most proud of throughout the pandemic, Mr. Pierce didn’t hesitate to credit all the providers and support staff in the Hamilton Community Health Network. “I am tremendously proud of our staff. In spite of the fact that people were concerned and fearful about the virus – over what we didn’t and still don’t know – our staff continued to provide medical services our patients. Because of their efforts, COVID-19 did not affect our services.”
Mr. Pierce began his accomplished career in Philadelphia, with the first Medicaid managed-care program in the country. He believes the experience he received in his succeeding positions prepared him to be the CEO of Hamilton. “I realized that my passion was working with people who are excited about providing health care to people who need it the most. Working with individuals as opposed to contracts, as was my role in a different lifetime, is much more satisfying. It’s nice to know you’re able to impact individuals who are in need of access to medical services. Without Hamilton, many community members would not have access to healthcare. That personal impact is the ultimate satisfaction and enjoyment.”
Mr. Pierce has been advocating for better health in Flint for 15 years. We are proud to spotlight him in this month’s Consortium newsletter.