Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, received the Sellers-McCroan Award during the Georgia Public Health Association conference in Atlanta on April 13.
The award is given each year to a person whose work has had a significant impact on epidemiology and/or laboratory services in Georgia. District Health Directors nominated Dr. Fitzgerald because of her work to strengthen epidemiology in Georgia’s public health system.
Dr. Fitzgerald’s contributions were outlined in the program for today’s event.
“In 2011, when the Georgia General Assembly restored the Department of Public Health (DPH) to its own state agency after more than 30 years of consolidation with other departments, it was crucial that the new Department be led by someone with a passion for public health who would be able to help guide the new agency in the right direction. Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald was chosen for the job and has never looked back. As the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health and State Health Officer, Dr. Fitzgerald serves as the lead for all public health initiatives and programs throughout the 159 counties of Georgia. DPH has thrived under her direction and hands-on approach to finding solutions to the issues facing the citizens of Georgia. She has been the primary champion for improving the health and well-being for all Georgians.
Part of public health’s mission is to prepare for emergencies so that when a crisis arises – whether a manmade threat or natural disaster – public health workers are ready to respond. The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the subsequent cases that emerged in the United States was just such a crisis.
Dr. Fitzgerald worked diligently with her public health team, including the State Executive Leadership, Epidemiology and District Health Directors, to direct response efforts. Her work behind the scenes to shore up partnerships with other State agencies, as well as other key stakeholders, ensured a cohesive statewide response. Perhaps just as importantly, Dr. Fitzgerald served as the confident face of public health to help allay the public’s fears about the disease utilizing radio, print and electronic media.
By Executive Order, Governor Nathan Deal appointed leaders to serve on the Georgia Ebola Response Team to assess current state health and emergency management procedures and produce recommendations to minimize any potential impact of the disease in Georgia, and he appointed Dr. Fitzgerald to chair the team.
It has never been easy to coordinate a response amongst 159 counties, 18 health districts, and various state departments. During this response to Ebola, the Commissioner was successful in developing an infrastructure to do just that.
Dr. Fitzgerald provided leadership to the State/District team of Epidemiologists to assure a systematic approach for uniform screening for risk for Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), and coordination of reporting possible cases.
Just as importantly, State and District Epidemiologists were instrumental, as well as other key public health leadership members, in communicating with hospital infection control, physicians and others, regarding risk of individuals presenting to physicians and hospitals for possible EVD, as well as identifying those NOT at risk. Once again, this coordinated response statewide was possible due to the leadership of Dr. Fitzgerald as the Incident Commander and the systems put in place under her direction.”