Member Spotlight: Kim Malsam-Rysdon

August 31, 2017|1:41 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

Kim Malsam-RysdonKim Malsam-Rysdon is cabinet secretary of the South Dakota Department of Health. The mission of the South Dakota Department of Health is to promote, protect, and improve the health of every South Dakotan. The department provides maternal and child health services, disease prevention and intervention, regulation of healthcare and other entities, correctional healthcare services, and public health preparedness and response services across the state.

What was the experience or motivating factor that compelled you to become a state health official?

I have worked in our state disability and social service agencies as well as the governor’s office and came to understand the unique opportunities to help people in the state health department. The opportunity to work across agencies and help people achieve optimal health is very exciting to me.

Was there someone who influenced you to lead a health department?

I was lucky to be able to learn from my predecessor about the power of public health and the fun and challenging work in the health department. Gov. Dennis Daugaard supported me to serve in this role while continuing to serve on his executive committee.

What is your morning ritual?

I have to exercise right away or it doesn’t happen. Most days, I start with a walk with my yellow Labrador retriever.

What do you do to stay healthy?

I enjoy cooking at home and exercising regularly. I also try to stay balanced between my professional and personal lives and address stressors.

Where is your favorite vacation spot?

My husband’s entire family has vacationed at the same house on a lake in Wisconsin for over 75 years. My kids have grown up experiencing that family vacation, and it is something we look forward to every year.  

What are your favorite hobbies?

My family and I enjoy playing games and boating on Lake Oahe during the summer. I also enjoy reading, gardening, and completing home improvement projects.

What is your state doing to address the opioid epidemic, and how are you supporting the 2017 ASTHO President’s Challenge?

We are working with a diverse group of stakeholders to develop a statewide strategic plan to combat opioid abuse. In addition, we are partnering with our state behavioral health agency to raise awareness about opioid abuse and support naloxone distribution, as well as working with our state board of pharmacy to increase use of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program by prescribers.

How did your career in public health begin?

I started my career addressing social determinants of health before we ever called them that. As a social worker, the link between health and things like income, educational level, early childhood trauma, and housing status seems obvious. I remember interning at a small rural hospital and helping people address some very basic but real challenges to get their prescriptions after discharge and to attend their follow-up appointments. I appreciated working on individualized and systemic solutions to those problems.

What do you love most about the public health work you do?

We make a difference in people’s lives. I get to hear stories almost every day about the difference public health makes in the lives of people in South Dakota: helping pregnant moms have healthy birth outcomes, ensuring young children and pregnant moms have access to healthy food, helping people with chronic diseases achieve better health and experience fuller lives, and preventing outbreaks of dangerous diseases. The people that work to make these things happen are amazing!

What do you find most challenging about public health?

We have some large health disparities in areas such as infant mortality, preventable deaths, and infectious disease rates in South Dakota, particularly for American Indians. Eliminating health disparities is long-term hard work, but it can make a huge difference in our state.

What is something you’re most thankful to have been a part of during your career in public health?

We had a measles outbreak two weeks after I started. I got a baptism by fire into the world of disease intervention and media relations associated with outbreaks. It taught me to rely on our expert staff and develop an appreciation and respect for staff doing the field work early in my tenure. I also got an early sense of the importance of surveillance systems through that experience.

How has social media helped advance public health within your state?

The ability to reach targeted populations with education and messaging and understanding its effectiveness has greatly increased with the use of social media. We are able to use our limited resources more effectively because of social media and respond to public health issues in a timelier and more cost-effective way.