It is often said that public health works under the radar. Well, for public health in Maryland, July 1 was quite an under-the-radar milestone. On that day, *three* county health officers in our state – with *116 years* of local experience between them – retired.
I have had the great privilege of working with all three of these extraordinary people. I thought you might be interested in hearing a little more about their service to Maryland.
Debbie Goeller served as the health officer for Worcester County for more than 20 years. Worcester County is the last stop before the Atlantic Ocean on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where the population balloons in the summertime as tourists flood Ocean City and other beach destinations. As secretary of Maryland’s Health Department, I worked one summer with Debbie to battle a legionella outbreak at a local hotel. Another summer, Debbie helped evacuate coastal areas as a Hurricane approached.
A nurse by training, Debbie exudes competence and joy. Over her many years on the job, she developed many innovative programs to address mental illness and addiction, including intensive programs for young mothers, a mobile 24-hour crisis response capacity, and the state’s first tele-psychiatry program. She also led regional efforts on avian flu in the poultry industry.
Rodney Glotfelty began working in the Garrett County Health Department in 1976, pausing his service to this rural and western-most Maryland county only to earn a Master’s of Public Health degree at Johns Hopkins. A sanitarian by trade, he reorganized local trash disposal, inspected restaurants, and enforced a broad set of environmental regulations with good humor and a firm hand. He became the health officer of his county in 1998, and from that time forward, he was always active in the Maryland health officers association.
Rodney also took me under his wing as I started as Baltimore’s Health Commissioner in 2005. At one point, I asked him whether his county might be interested in joining Baltimore City in seeking legislation authorizing “expedited partner therapy” for sexually transmitted diseases. Expedited partner therapy allows health departments to give medication to patients to distribute to their partners. Rodney replied it was not necessary in Garrett County. “Up in my part of the state,” he told me, “when someone comes to us with an STD, we already know who gave it to them.”
Susan Kelly began working in the Harford County Health Department, north of Baltimore, in 1971 as a field sanitarian. Step-by-step, Susan rose from the front lines of environmental health to the top of her organization, taking over as health officer in 2009. In this role, she was recognized across the state both for her prodigious work ethic and her unflagging enthusiasm for public health.
Susan worked closely with the health care system to promote prevention and address the needs of the uninsured, while handling difficult issues of environmental contamination with transparency and good judgment. It is hard to describe in words the respect she commanded across Harford County; her recent retirement party brought scores of people out from across the area, none able to imagine the Health Department without her.
Indeed, it is hard for me to imagine public health in Maryland without Debbie, Rodney, and Susan. Through their tireless (and sometimes thankless) efforts, they protected their counties. Their retirement may have been under-the-radar, but hundreds of thousands of Marylanders owe them a debt of gratitude. I sure do.
The Office of Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is the administrative home for the Maryland Association of County Health Officers. Twice a year, this organization meets on campus, and we hold different events with faculty, staff, and students. Over the next year, we will also work to bring these three great people leaders to campus to meet interested students, staff, and faculty and to inspire a new generation of public health leaders.
Thanks for reading, and have a great summer.
Joshua M. Sharfstein, MD
Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training