DPH Commissioner Fitzgerald Receives Sellers-McCroan Award

Today, Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., received the 2015 Sellers-McCroan Award, which honors a public health professional in Georgia whose work has had significant impact on epidemiology or laboratory services at the state, district, or county levels, in academia or in hospitals. The award is presented annually by the Georgia Public Health Association (GPHA).

In nominating Dr. Fitzgerald for the Sellers-McCroan Award, Georgia’s 18 district health directors highlighted her many contributions to public health and the impact of her work for the health of the state and the strength of epidemiology in our public health system.

In 2011, when the Georgia General Assembly restored 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. Fitzgerald was chosen for the job and has never looked back.

As DPH Commissioner 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 of 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.

By Executive Order, Governor Nathan Deal appointed leaders to serve on the Georgia Ebola Response Team tasked with assessing state health and emergency management procedures and producing necessary recommendations to minimize any potential impact of the disease in Georgia. It was no surprise 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, Dr. Fitzgerald was successful in developing an infrastructure to do just that. She provided leadership to the state and district 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 statewide response was possible due to the leadership of Dr. Fitzgerald as the incident commander and the systems put in place under her direction.

The Sellers-McCroan award is named for Thomas Fort Sellers, Sr., M.D. and John Edgar McCroan, Jr., Ph.D. Both men contributed greatly to the work of Public Health in Georgia.

The entire public health system in Georgia joins in congratulating Dr. Fitzgerald on this prestigious award – given as an acknowledgement of her tireless and excellent work to prevent disease, injury and disability; promote health and well-being; and prepare for and respond to disasters here in our home state.