Tracing Health

Emily Henke, PNW & OPHI Executive Director- The Vision For A Culturally and Linquistically Centered Contact Tracing Workforce

August 1, 2021 | Thought Leadership

Emily Henke, PNW & OPHI Executive Director- The Vision For A Culturally and Linquistically Centered Contact Tracing Workforce,

My name is Emily Henke and I’m the executive director of the Oregon Public Health Institute.

Tracing Health was born out of necessity in March 2020.

The pandemic was increasing in the United States and contact tracing was coming into focus as the strategy that we would use across the country to mitigate the spread.

The Origin of Tracing Health’s Cultural and Linguistic Centered Approach

Oregon Public Health Institute in the Public Health Institute joined forces to create the Tracing Health Program, which got its start providing culturally and linguistically responsive contact tracing services in four counties in the Pacific Northwest.

We started in Washington County, Oregon, and then quickly moved to Clark County, Washington’s Skamania County, Washington, in the Spokane Regional Health District

And in these four counties, we really tested the concept. We built out the systems and the infrastructure that would allow us to create a much larger program that’s now working in three states.

Addressing Social Determinants of Health

There’s another layer in this chapter of the story that we have to talk about, which is that in the United States, communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19.

In March 2020, we didn’t know exactly how it would play out, but we did know that this was a disease that was going to have a greater impact on people who could not stay home and isolate or quarantine people who could not work from home, and people who are more likely to have underlying health conditions.

And in the United States are communities of color, are more likely to be in front line jobs, more likely to be essential workers and more likely to have underlying health conditions. Your economic well-being is a key determinant of your individual health.

It is also a big part of what makes a community as a whole healthy. So when we build jobs in the communities where we work, we’re not only addressing Covid, we’re addressing health.

Laying the Groundwork for the Future of Public Health

And that intersection of urgency and the equity imperative is where the Oregon Public Health Institute and the Public Health Institute saw that we could have an impact on the pandemic, saw that we could design a contact tracing program that would meet the needs of our local public health departments and our communities and also lay the groundwork for what we want the public health system of the United States to look like in the future.

Get To Know Your Friendly Local Public Health Agency

One of the things I would like to see continue after the pandemic ends is the continuation of better, stronger, deeper connections between public health agencies and the communities that they serve.

Everybody should get to know their friendly local public health department, and we can help with that.

A Team That Truly Cares

The part of tracing health that I am most proud of is our team. This is hard draining work, but it is an immense joy and privilege to be on a team with hundreds of people who show up every day because they care.

They all took this job because they wanted to help. And it is such a great feeling to log into my computer every day and see their faces and know that we’re all here for the same reason.

My one wish is that my work helps save lives and makes a meaningful difference in the lives of our team.

NEXT: Tracing Health's Remote and On-Site Vaccination Support Services

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