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Health Department celebrates ‘Heroes of Public Health’

April 13, 2016

Dozens honored with awards for outstanding service to community

Department’s annual Employee Recognition Awards during National Public Health Week, a celebration of the work and contributions of public health.

TACOMA, Wash. – For 20 years, the American Public Health Association has celebrated National Public Health Week in April. This year’s theme is Healthiest Nation 2030. Locally, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department highlighted outstanding employees, declaring them “Heroes of Public Health” during a recent Employee Recognition Awards ceremony. They represent more than 275 local public health professionals who work to protect and improve the health of all people and places in Pierce County. At the event, seven employees received top honors:

Jocelyn Rodriguez, Administrative Assistant—Outstanding Employee Award
Rodriguez embodies initiative, excellence, and a passion for service. Two years ago, she learned Medicaid billing from the ground up so the Department’s Communicable Disease Division could begin to bill for immunizations. The Affordable Care Act increased the opportunity for the new revenue source, and Rodriguez created procedures and established standards when no model existed. “I love helping the community so it gives me much satisfaction that I’m helping the community” the Lakewood wife and mother said.

Peggy Cooley, Public Health NurseInnovation/Bright Idea Award
The Lacey resident blended her expertise in public health and healthcare to strengthen the Health Department’s Tuberculosis (TB) control program 20 years ago. She pioneered the use of video to directly observe patients taking their TB medicine. This innovation ensured cost-effective disease control. Nationwide, many health departments followed Cooley’s lead. Cooley has ensured treatment for more than 500 TB patients since 1996.

Stephanie Wood, Program Analyst in the Office of Assessment, Planning & Improvement—Community Ambassador
For a food justice project in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, Wood gathered data for assessment purposes while using a community-based approach to build relationships with pregnant women and new moms to ensure their needs came through in the effort to improve healthy food access and decrease obesity. The Burien resident said she recognizes “the opportunity to do more community work and be a part of solutions as well as identify opportunities for improvement in public health.”

Bob Suggs, Environmental Health Specialist—Outstanding Leader/Mentor Award
Suggs knows how to strike a balance between pushing his staff to do their best and being there to help when they need it. His nominator said Suggs “constantly leads by example, with a strong work ethic, great customer service and respect for those around him” in the Health Department’s On-Site Sewage and Well Permitting program. The Puyallup native said he considered himself a “technical guy” when he started at the Health Department, but over the years the best part of his job has changed. He is now much more interested in the people he meets. The Puget Sound region is his home and he said he has “a strong commitment to wanting to keep it clean and safe for everybody else to use.”

Erica Swanson, Environmental Health Specialist—Ray of Sunshine Award
As part of her job in the Code Enforcement program, Swanson makes home visits with the challenging task of getting residents to clean up their yards. The Tacoma woman manages to do this with a good deal of understanding. “I have a fairly strong empathy for what people are going through,” Swanson said. “When I go out in the field, I try to put myself in their situation and think how would I want someone to talk to me, or approach me, or deal with me through this process.” Those she serves discover that Swanson is their partner and ally as they work to clean up their property and the environment.

Chara Rim, Senior Deputy Registrar, Vital Records—Customer Service Award
Rim manages the Department’s Vital Records Office. Some of the work revolves around the very sensitive topic of death. Funeral directors are important regular customers, and sometimes they have challenging requests to accommodate family needs or religious customs. One funeral director praised the University Place woman for helping him get a burial transit permit on a Saturday, on a holiday weekend, to ensure a family could have their deceased mother buried in New York, within 24 hours. “I believe that everyone has stories, and one of the last stories is on a death certificate,” Rim said. “I like to do the best I can to process those death records to be as complete and accurate as possible for the deceased loved one. It can be challenging, but rewarding.”

Clarence Swindle, Building Maintenance Specialist—Unsung Hero Award
Co-workers praise Swindle for his commitment to keeping the Health Department functioning with a positive attitude and a smile. The Tacoma man lives close to the Department where he has worked for about 15 years. One imaginative nominator said he uses magic tools and fairy dust to hold the facility together. “I get a lot of intrinsic rewards being able to take care of jobs and most of the time being able to see instant results and get a lot of positive feedback from the staff here, which really makes my job worthwhile to me,” Swindle said.

During the Employee Recognition Awards, the Health Department also honored four teams totaling 45 employees: The Director’s Award (Strategic Planning Committee and Strategic Advisory Group), the Deputy Director’s Award (Wellness Committee), and the Outstanding Team Award (Promoting First Relationships, which works with pregnant women and new moms who used drugs). Another 41 employees received service longevity awards for 5 to 30 years.

Also during National Public Health Week, the Washington State Public Health Association (WSPHA) gave their Health Champions Award to Beth Wilson, who manages the Health Department’s Maternal and Child Outreach program, for her work to reduce infant mortality and preterm births. Wilson’s passion and leadership sparked the formation of the Perinatal Collaborative of Pierce County (PCPC) in 2012. Since then the collaborative has raised nearly $34,000 to buy cribs for low-income mothers to reduce infant deaths.

Edie Jeffers, Communications Manager
(253) 798-2853, (253) 405-6822 (cell/text),
Steve Metcalf, Communications Specialist
(253) 798-6540, (253) 345-8238, (cell/text),

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