Member Spotlight: Lisa Piercey

May 08, 2019|5:12 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

Lisa PierceyLisa Piercey, MD, MBA, FAAP, is commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health. Preceding her public service, Piercey spent a decade in health systems operations, most recently as executive vice president of West Tennessee Healthcare, a public, nonprofit health system. Piercey is board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in both general pediatrics and in child abuse pediatrics.

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

That’s a reasonable question, because I don’t have a traditional public health background! In my former role of serving as a health system executive, my primary areas of focus were rural hospital operations and population health. Because both of these areas are heavily influenced by public policy, I became increasingly familiar with social determinants of health, advocacy organizations, and the legislative process, and I even had the opportunity to collaborate with my regional and state health departments, from the “end-user” standpoint. I certainly wasn’t looking to leave my health system role, but the more I learned about Gov. Lee’s passion for rural Tennessee and his emphasis on reducing healthcare costs while improving population health, the more interested I in helping accomplish this vision.

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

At the risk of sounding trite, I really feel that God called me to this place. To be honest, I was very comfortable—on many levels—in my former job, but this idea of doing something bigger and more widely impactful kept popping up. I’ve always felt blessed beyond measure and am intent on using the talents I’ve been given to my fullest ability. Once I stopped trying to fight it and talk myself out of it, my mentality shifted to making it work, with my family, my career path, and the expected sacrifices of public service.

What is your morning ritual?

My morning ritual depends on where I wake up. My husband and I have four teenagers, the oldest of which is entering her senior year of high school this fall. Because we felt strongly about not disrupting the last year of high school for her, we decided that I would split my weeknights between our home and an apartment near my office in downtown Nashville. Every morning, I get up a little before 5 a.m. and read my devotional and several news outlets, drink plenty of coffee, and, on the mornings that I don’t have to make the 120-mile commute to Nashville, I try to get in a 2-3 mile run.

What do you do to stay healthy?

My husband and I are both triathletes. With the time demands of this new position, I’m not training or racing much these days, but I do insist on getting in a good workout 3-4 times per week.

What are your favorite hobbies?

My favorites are cooking, traveling, water sports, and drumming.

What is the best part of your week?

The highlights of my week are when I get to meet TDH employees at local health departments and program meetings. We have such an amazingly diverse staff, many of whom have been with the department for large portions of their careers. I cherish moments to chat with them about our strengths and opportunities.

How is your state helping to build healthier, more resilient communities? Describe any steps you are taking in general or as part of the 2019 ASTHO President’s Challenge.

The 2019 ASTHO President's Challenge resonates with the work we are doing in Tennessee to put communities in the driver seat of action to improve health outcomes. We are fortunate to have county health councils serving all 95 of our counties, bringing a broad array of sectors and perspectives to the table across our state. Beginning this year, these councils have begun a systematic process to conduct county health assessments that will lead into county health improvement plans supported by our local health departments and central office. Rather than TDH staff telling county health councils what is important, we have empowered our local partners through data and community engagement guidance to determine what issues are most pressing in their communities. We are committed to furthering the work of our health councils with evidence-based policy advice and practical support, and over time, we will be integrating these assessments and plans into our department’s overall strategic planning process.

To complement these efforts to move upstream across sectors, we have undertaken a number of other initiatives, including the addition of a new corps of healthy development coordinators in each of our public health regions. This staff works as a bridge between our health departments and community planners, elected officials, and other stakeholders to address built environment issues and investments. Over the last two years, the department has awarded over $2.7 million to 141 built environment projects in every county of Tennessee. Moreover, we are incorporating innovative approaches to build resilience in the individuals and communities we serve. For instance, all of our WIC program staff members have been trained in “Talk with Me Baby,” a language nutrition initiative designed to encourage parents in their interactions with young children.

What has been your state’s biggest public health success in the past year?

“Baby and Me Tobacco Free,” a smoking cessation program for pregnant mothers, began several years ago in a single health department. Today, ours is the first Baby and Me program to go statewide. It is funded by our Medicaid managed care organizations and has expanded to include other adults in the mother’s household. We are also seeing tremendous participation in our youth-led tobacco peer advocacy effort, TNSTRONG. It is exciting to see the leaders of tomorrow taking such a strong stance against tobacco. Additionally, our department has earned national respect in our response to a number of concurrent outbreaks, including measles, Hepatitis A, foodborne illness, and the opioid epidemic.

What is your vision for the future of public health?

I think there is more that we can do to integrate healthcare organizations and private sector partners into our public health work. Historically, these entities have had separate, yet parallel, tracks. Now, with the changing reimbursement environment and shift to value-based care, along with public health’s primary focus on chronic disease (as opposed to infectious disease), it is more important than ever to align efforts across the spectrum to meet Tennesseans wherever they are and engage with them about their health. To that end, we have to ramp up our ability to leverage digital tools to reach our audience.