Workers from the county health department calmly walk door to door putting little bags into mailboxes as they move through the quiet suburban neighborhood. In less than two hours, the team has delivered those bags to 1500 mailboxes, nearly 4500 residents. In each bag is a bottle of antibiotics that provides protection from the inhalational anthrax that was released in town by some very bad people. The residents who have those antibiotics in their mailboxes can stay home for a few more days, buying time for public health, healthcare, and law enforcement officials to determine who is at risk from the deadly biological agent and who will need more medication.
Sound like a new blockbuster movie? Actually, it’s the script for an exercise that the Shelby County Health Department in Greater Memphis, TN, along with support from 11 other agencies in three states, held in late October. In the event of a real emergency, the bottles, which were empty in the exercise, would hold the necessary medications to treat or prevent reactions to a biological weapon such as anthrax. Planning and exercising scenarios like this are part of the job for Shelby County Cities Readiness Initiative (CRI) Coordinator, James (Matt) McDaniel.
Matt is responsible for dispensing protective medications to the 1.2 million people living in the three-state Memphis Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) within 48 hours of the request to do so. Matt joins 61 other CRI coordinators across the country and U.S. Territories who have the same mission for their own communities. He and his team used planning elements from other states, including Minnesota, that have done similar exercises, which demonstrates their willingness to adopt lessons learned from others across the nation. He took on this daunting role three years ago and in that time, has raised assessment scores, developed a robust dispensing plan, and created meaningful relationships across Western Tennessee and three state borders. While Matt isn’t alone in the huge undertaking of preparedness and response planning in Shelby County and the Memphis MSA, he stands apart in his enthusiasm, positivity, and dedication to the mission and citizens of the area.
Last month, at the 2012 Campaign for Public Health Foundation’s Unsung Heroes of Public Health Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., Matt was awarded the Wave Maker of the Year award, recognizing his work on a larger-scale, multi-state prevention initiative. The awards honored three individuals who have worked tirelessly and produced meaningful public health results in disease control and prevention.
“One of the biggest challenges facing public health experts is getting accurate information about proven prevention strategies out to the public,” said Karl Moeller, The CPH Foundation’s executive director. “The individuals who are so justly being honored truly represent scores of our fellow citizens throughout the United States who devote their time and energy to making this a better, healthier world for all. Their work is particularly important at this time of unfortunate staff and budget cuts at every level of governmental public health,” said George Hardy, a member of the Selection Committee that reviewed more than thirty nominations.
The heroes spent the day on Capitol Hill meeting with their hometown members of Congress, including Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Bob Cocker (R-TN) as well as Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and closing with a reception attended by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Rep. Roybal-Allard (D-CA), both co-chairs of the Congressional Study Group on Public Health.
Matt said of the honor, “The biggest thing about winning this award, the biggest take away, is how we need to work together. We need to get through those ‘Siloes of Excellence’. Nobody wants to do things by themselves. Nobody wants to stick in just one little spot, but it just happens. The more we work together on these initiatives, the easier it will be to have cohesive plans across state lines, county lines, even across borders in the same county and city lines.
Visit the Campaign for Public Health Foundation to read more about the Unsung Heroes of Public Health 2012 Awards.
The Cities Readiness Initiative (CRI) is a component of the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) grant managed by the CDC’s Division of State and Local Readiness.