Preparedness in the Caribbean: A Conversation with Danny Staley

February 07, 2019|9:06 a.m.| ASTHO Staff

Danny-StaleyDanny Staley (alumnus-NC) is chief of ASTHO’s Caribbean Operations. He previously served as director of the North Carolina Division of Public Health. Staley began his career in public health in 1992 after graduating from Appalachian State University with a degree in health education, followed by a master’s degree in community health administration and wellness promotion.

How did your career in public health begin?

My public health career began as a local health director in Alexander County, North Carolina. In this small local health department, I learned many lessons. One of the greatest lessons I learned is the importance of relationships. It is critical to have strong relationships with the public, community leaders, providers, and many other stakeholders. One never knows when you will need a partner to help in the work of public health. Our success and work depend on many people.

What are your primary priorities as chief of ASTHO’s Caribbean Operations?

The first priority is to assist the Caribbean territories in recovery and capacity building following the 2017 hurricanes. ASTHO is doing this via rapidly developing temporary staff contracts, purchasing equipment, and arranging service contracts in accordance with CDC funding. For instance, we are contracting 102 full-time equivalent staff to assist with projects around vector control, grants management, food safety, and more. We are purchasing computers and generators to prepare for continuing operations in future storms. Another activity is contracting for a vital events registration system, as well as training for death certifiers. Beyond this, I hope to work within ASTHO to help provide the best service I can to all state health officials and departments across the nation. I hope my experience as a former state health official and current alumni can offer added value to ASTHO.

Given your experience as director of North Carolina’s Division of Public Health, how has your work in public health at the state level influenced your approach at ASTHO?

My experience as a state health official influenced me in many ways. It taught me the great value of relationships. For example, as we worked on the opioid crisis, we saw increasing hepatitis C rates and increased HIV risk due to dirty syringes. The need to have a safer syringe program became apparent. However, gaining support from the administration at the time was impossible. The relationship created with community partners and law enforcement was the only way to move forward. We cannot do the work of public health alone. We all have different strengths and talents. The real work is knowing how to get the most, together.

What are some of the unique challenges Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands face following the hurricanes this past year? What sort of partnerships do you envision ASTHO building to help bolster and support ongoing recovery efforts?

The effects of having two Category Five hurricanes within a couple weeks is devastating. Supply chains have been interrupted. There has been considerable damage and loss of basic infrastructure, in particular the power grid. Workforce continues to leave the islands, seeking opportunities in the states. These and many other issues have delayed and prohibited recovery. For instance, here we are, over a year removed from the hurricanes, and dialysis patients in the U.S. Virgin Islands are just now returning due to the loss of the dialysis center. However, many are returning to structures that may prove challenging due to access or repair issues that impact health. Overcoming these and other issues will require partnerships. That is one of the primary reasons ASTHO has established a physical presence in the territories—to help establish and convene these partnerships so that recovery might happen more swiftly. We are beginning by meeting and talking with the impacted territories themselves. We must be present to understand their needs. Once we know and understand, we can seek the best partners to help. Of course, CDC, the Association of Public Health Laboratories, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and many other partners will be critical to a successful recovery on the islands. In this respect, I recall my grandfather’s advice: “You cannot have too many friends.”

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