ASTHO Member Spotlight: Norman Oliver

December 12, 2018|4:57 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

Norman-OliverNorman Oliver, MD, MA, is state health commissioner of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH). Prior to this, Oliver served as the department’s deputy commissioner for population health. Oliver was previously the Walter M. Seward Professor and Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. As state health commissioner, Oliver is committed to a cross-agency and multi-sector approach to implementing population health initiatives, with a long record of accomplishments in research and community health work related to health disparities.

What was the experience or motivating factor that compelled you to become a state health official?
I previously served as VDH’s deputy commissioner for population health. The department has been on a concerted campaign, in partnership with community-based organizations, healthcare systems, insurance payers, faith-based organizations, employers, and many others, to improve population health. I wanted to help lead that work going forward.

Was there someone who influenced you to lead a health department?
Marissa Levine, the former state health commissioner in Virginia.

What is your morning ritual?
I get up around 4 a.m., wash up, do some stretching and meditation, then I go to the gym. From there, I head to the office for an early start.

What do you do to stay healthy?
I try to follow the advice I gave my patients as a family physician: exercise; eat real food (not too much—and mostly fruit and vegetables), and find time for reflection.

Where is your favorite vacation spot?
There are simply too many to name!

What are your favorite hobbies?
I’m hoping to find time to get back to photography.

What is your state doing to address the opioid epidemic?
In 2016, former Virginia state health commissioner Marissa Levine declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. She then issued a standing order, allowing the distribution of naloxone as a key harm reduction intervention. One of my first acts as state health commissioner was to reissue that standing order. To date, the health department has distributed as many as 30,000 doses of naloxone.

In addition, we have worked with Virginia’s Medicaid agency and the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services to train hundreds of clinicians in the commonwealth in the medication-assisted treatment (MAT) of substance use disorder. We help train first-responders to use naloxone to save the lives of those who overdose. We’re working with local providers, law enforcement, local governments, and other stakeholders to establish comprehensive harm reduction programs. These programs provide wraparound services for people who suffer from the disease of addiction. These services include MAT, case management, peer recovery coaching, as well as needle-exchange services.

We recognize that addiction is a disease of despair. So, we’re working with a broad, multi-sectoral coalition of people and organizations to improve the living conditions that underlie this despair.

How did your career in public health begin?
I worked in an academic healthcare system in which we did a lot of population health management. In this work, I found myself partnering with the local health department. I decided that I wanted to work on improving the health of not just my healthcare system’s patient panel, but the entire population.

What do you love most about the public health work you do?
I love the fact that what we do affects the lives of millions of people. I trained as a family physician. I loved the relationships I developed with the families I cared for and took great pleasure in working with them to protect their health and improve their well-being. Now, as a public health practitioner, I have the great honor to do that for millions.

What do you find most challenging about public health?
Our core business is reactive in nature. We’re very focused on protecting the population from disease, toxins, and disasters. While this work is essential and foundational, we need to become more proactive in improving population health through partnering with others to ensure living conditions that promote health and foster well-being.

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