Take-aways from the Surgeon General: Our work in the national picture

By Janna Wilson, Director of Health Policy and Planning

The new U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy came to Seattle earlier this month as part oFirst Person Imagef a national “listening tour,” hosted by the Region 10 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office.  I confess that I hadn’t given much thought to the role of the Surgeon General in relation to the everyday work we undertake here in a local public health department and in county government.  Not sure what to expect, I joined my two county colleagues—Cyndi Schaeffer, our Public Health Chief of Staff, and Susan McLaughlin, with the Department of Community and Human Services – as we took our seats with about 30 other state and local community health leaders from the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Murthy encouraged the group to openly share perspectives on the health chvivek-murphyallenges facing our region, as well our successes.  Over the next hour, people voiced a range of issues—substance abuse, mental health, integrated care, marijuana, e-cigarettes, measles, immunizations, chronic disease, public health funding, workforce issues, health disparities—and more.

The Surgeon General’s take on successful approaches

Most of these issues, he said, echoed those he was hearing from our counterparts in the 20+ other cities he had visited.  As part of his commitment to sharing lessons across communities, he reflected a bit on his takeaways about approaches around the country that are making a difference, and highlighted three areas:

  1. The work taking place to bring care to where people are, such as through community health workers, greater use of technology such as telemedicine, and the integration of behavioral health;
  2. The importance of focusing earlier and earlier in the life cycle, assuring babies get a healthy start in life and avoid the adverse childhood experiences that are associated with future chronic disease and other challenges; and
  3. The growing role that cross-sector collaborations are playing in improved health, collaborations that entail partnering with entities such as community and economic development that many not have “health” in their title but have a lot to do with influencing health.

Connecting national trends with King County

When he spoke to these three areas of “what works,” my colleague Susan and I were quick to exchange glances.  Here in King County, the work of the Health and Human Services Transformation initiative that has been evolving in concert with community partners in recent years has honed in on these very areas, and I found myself thinking of the many local efforts to better integrate care, the growing energy of the Best Starts for Kids initiative, and the community-led, cross-sector partnerships that underlie Communities of Opportunity.

Dr. Murthy’s remarks affirmed that our local efforts are on the right track.  I left the room that morning with renewed appreciation for the leading-edge work underway by so many colleagues and partners in the King County region, together with more insights into how our Surgeon General can elevate and reframe issues about health in our country and help us learn from one another.

Dr. Murthy was confirmed as our nation’s top public health official last December.  Get to know more about him by checking out this recent Q & A.