Facing Public Health Issues: Takeaways from WSPHA 2019

tyler tullis

Mallory Peak, PhD
Senior Account Director

Oct 17, 2019

The Washington State Public Health Association’s 2019 Annual Conference (WSPHA) was definitely one to remember. Surrounded by thought leaders in the public health sector, we came away with one major takeaway – Washington is ahead of the curve when it comes to facing public health issues head on.

From learning about how to use data strategically to improve health outcomes, to hearing from different tribal health organizations about the importance of community driven planning, we were blown away by the innovative work being done in our home state. The conversations happening in our state around care, inclusivity and data are leading the country.

Supporting one of the first and largest opioid prevention campaigns in the US, our work with the Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA) and the Starts with One campaign is anchored in community engagement and an evidence-based approach. HCA’s Alicia Hughes and I lead a discussion on how to leverage community partners as powerful message carriers to spread positive, pro-active messaging. You can read more about our Starts with One campaign here.

Coming away from this three-day conference, we were inspired to keep these topics top of mind in our work within the public health sector. Here’s a look at the top three “big ideas” that really inspired our team this year: 

1. Health equity is everything.
When addressing public health issues, it is important to view things through the lens of attaining the highest level of health for all people. When we attended Abigail Echo-Hawk’s presentation (an enrolled member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, the Chief Research Officer for the Seattle Indian Health Board and this year’s recipient of the Washington State Secretary of Health Award) she said, “What if all the work we did in public health was for the love of our people?” That struck us. We must put equity front and center in all of our work.

2. Data is only one part of a complex story.
We look to public health for data, for real information about the lives and health of people. Data is what informs our perception of what is actually happening – where the problems lie and how the solutions we implement are impacting actual health outcomes. The problem with public health data is it’s not always timely and it’s not always complete. Health data is one tool to help tell a more comprehensive story, but it’s not the only story. At a state and federal level we are asking: Are we really measuring what matters? What role does technology play, or could play, in helping to supplement Public Health data? How do we decolonize data to make it responsive to the communities we serve? This really inspired our team to think about different kinds of data, from media metrics to public health data, and what story they tell about health, about power and about each other.

3. Cultural appreciation is central to the work we do.
We need to be inclusive in our public health work and campaigns to not only represent different voices, but provide our minority, at-risk and underrepresented communities the opportunity to not just participate, but to advise and steer planning and problem-solving. This is especially important when the work is meant to benefit any one of these populations. Our team took this to heart when working on HCA’s tribal campaign, supporting the amazing prevention work tribes across the state were already leading. To learn more about the campaign visit Washington Tribal Opioid Solutions.

We are proud to work with and alongside public health systems across the state who show leadership and intentionality in their work. A big thank you to the Washington State Public Health Association’s team and all of our co-presenters for continuing to bring innovation and passion to the table year after year.


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