Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Greetings from Arizona


I’m sorry that I had to miss this morning’s First Monday meeting.  I was in Scottsdale, Arizona attending an Association for State and Territorial Health Officers (ASTHO) Board meeting.  While you may dream about changing places with me - your being in a cloudy 38 degree environment while I’m in a sunny 75 degree one – consider the fact that it’s quite disheartening to be in a pleasant environment and not be able to enjoy it.  Because of the packed agenda, I was not able to get outside at any point during the entire day.  Being in a meeting and seeing the palm trees, green grass, and  people in short sleeve shirts enjoying the day and not be able to join them is less than pleasant.  I continue to make the case to ASTHO that, since we never get to enjoy the city where the meeting is held, it would be much more efficient to simply hold our meetings at the O’Hare Hilton. 

Despite the environment issues, the board meeting was quite good.  We covered a multitude of topics that are pertinent to our activities at MDH.  Given the late hour, I’ll share just a couple of things that I heard – things that are relevant to our budget and to the functioning of our department. 

As most Minnesotans have heard, the Governor is concerned about three things:  balancing the budget in a fair and equitable way, creating jobs, and providing children with a quality education.  If you don’t happen to be part of the Department of Labor and Industry, the Department of Employment and Economic Development, the Department of Revenue, or the Department of Education, you might wonder how you might fit into the upcoming budget discussions. 

What I heard today should give us some hope.  Several states mentioned that major corporations had been considering establishing new plants/operations in their states but backed-off because of the increasing rate of obesity in those states.  The message was that obesity means both an unhealthy workforce and an environment that does not support health.  Since poor health is a drag on the bottom-line of business, a healthy population is a major determinant of where they want to do their business.  These anecdotes reinforce the view that health is a major determinant of a vibrant economic environment.  For the sake of jobs, we need to invest in health – health that prevents disease and disability.  That needs to be a part of our budget presentation.

The other thing in the Board meeting that particularly caught my attention came out of our discussion about the characteristics of a good board member and a good leader.  Among the characteristics of a good leader listed by ASTHO board members - good listener, integrity, strategic thinking, courageous, honest, value driven, etc. – one stood out for me.  It was the characteristic of humility.  Really good leaders are humble.  That is, they recognize that their view of the world is incomplete and that they need to hear the points of view of others. 

As Commissioner, I’m officially the leader of MDH.  In that role I have to deal with all of the things that MDH is responsible for.  I’ve come to realize that I know a lot about a few things, I know a little bit about a lot of things, and I know nothing about some things.  Yet, I have to speak about and represent MDH on all of the issues within the MDH portfolio.  Because of that, there are many instances when I need to hear the points of view and the expertise and the advice of others.  From my perspective, I don’t know if this is humility or simply honesty.  I’ve come to realize that “it takes a village to support a health commissioner.” 

I’m appreciative of all the help that MDH staff have given me over the last 2 years and I look forward to even more consultation.  It has been invaluable.  It reinforces the wisdom of the Institute of Medicine definition of public health – “what we, as a society, do collectively to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy.”

Thanks for all your help.


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