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November 2015

Last modified 2016-02-02 10:48

Today in Public Health:

Catch up on family health history this Thanksgiving


In between all the eating and catching up of your family’s news, Thanksgiving is a good time to sit down together and compile a family health history. The U.S. has recognized National Family History Day on Thanksgiving since 2004. It began as an initiative by the U.S. Surgeon General, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“Family History is one of the best predictors of health, but is it really unappreciated by many people,” says Debra Lochner Doyle, MS, LCGC, Genetic Services Coordinator for the State of Washington.  “People don’t understand that just by spending a little bit of time talking with family members, they could be gaining tremendous information that they can use with their doctor and prevent illnesses for themselves.”

Health professionals have known for a long time that diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes can run in families. Tracing the illnesses suffered by parents, grandparents and other relatives can help doctors predict the disorders to which people may be at risk and make recommendations to keep them healthy.

To get started talking about your family’s health history and to create good records, check out questions to ask your family on the H.E.R.E. website or utilize the toolkit on the HHS website.

For more information, contact Debra Lochner Doyle at

Inspiring Work from Your Peers:

What it takes to be a successful health educator and the future of the profession

Mary Borges, Falls Prevention Manager at the Washington State Department of Health, has worked 10 different positions in her 33-year tenure with the agency. She recently took time to do a Question-and-Answer session about health education for the H.E.R.E. newsletter.

What inspired you to become a health educator and what inspires you to keep going?

What I like about being a health educator is beginning new initiatives and working in communities to implement.  I like changing communities—bringing coalitions together and teamwork. What keeps me motivated at work is learning new topics and transferring skills from one area to another. I enjoy working with different stakeholders and the creative process of implementing new projects.

What do you consider necessary traits to be successful as a health educator?

There are three big ones for me. The first one is inclusiveness. People who think differently from you can make for a well-rounded team and approach to an issue.  Partnerships are also essential—you cannot do your work alone. You must have partners who bring different perspectives and benefits to the table. And the third is flexibility. Set a path, but be willing to alter that path as opportunities appear.  Passion for the area you are working in is also crucial.

Do you have any special tools or resources that help you be successful at work?

My favorite resource is The Prevention Institute. The website has great tools that are helpful. The Spectrum of Prevention is a great way to explain prevention to an audience and to determine where interventions can be applied.

Do you see any trends on the horizon in the field of health education?

Yes, I’m seeing that having a business mind is important. Right now there is a lot of talk of MBAs and healthcare coming together. Health education isn’t just about convincing people to change their habits; it’s also about return on investment. It’s an exciting time to be a health educator and see the many opportunities that this field brings with healthcare reform.

Material Spotlight

What to Expect When Your Baby Has Withdrawal

In October, the United States Senate unanimously voted to pass a bill titled, Protecting Our Infants Act of 2015. This bill calls attention to opioid use during pregnancy, a growing health problem in America. Now is the perfect time to bring your attention to a material we added earlier this year called, What to Expect When Your Baby Has Withdrawal. The Department of Health developed this material in collaboration with a dozen providers throughout the state. Providers who treat infants with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and an in-patient group of moms who had used opioids during pregnancy assisted with audience testing this sensitive material. The material is available in English and Spanish. 

What’s Happening at Department of Health?

Center for Public Affairs

Earlier this fall, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) initiated the Center for Public Affairs (C4PA). To become DOH’s central point for all cross-agency policy, communications, community relations, and government relations related work, C4PA merged the former policy and communications teams.

DOH leadership merged these teams to help DOH realize its goals. “Honestly this approach felt natural,” Center Director Allene Mares reflects, “so often communicating, or the sharing of ideas, acts as the building blocks for policy development. Similarly, the best-developed policies fail without solid communication to back them up. We need our staff from both of these disciplines to be working together closely if we’re going to do our best work in promoting the health of all Washingtonians.”

Beyond bringing together several subject areas, C4PA will also introduce new working styles that DOH leadership believes will encourage greater collaboration and innovation. Ranging from a new open office design to approaching work through project circles, this change creates an opportunity to consider new ways of working together. “We’re going to let the work define the approach, as opposed to having an approach and fitting the work into it,” Allene Mares explained. “This change will make us more strategic, more innovative, and more nimble.”

Folks at C4PA look forward to working with both internal and external partners in the coming months. For more information about C4PA, please see our fact sheet, our operations plan, or reach us by email at

Something to Think About:

LOK-IT-UP promotes safe storage of firearms


The Pacific Northwest lost 10 of our own during the October 1 shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. It was the latest mass shooting to make headlines.

Firearms are a public health issue.  “We’re not debating the constitutionality of firearms—that exists,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director for the American Public Health Association said in a July 2015 article about gun violence in U.S. News & World Report. “Firearms exist and people get hurt and die from firearms. [But] there are ways for us in a nonpolitical manner to make people safer with their firearms in a society.”

Firearms in the hands of the wrong people often result in tragic consequences: suicides, homicides, unintentional shootings and threats in schools and other public places. In 2013, 33,636 people died in the United States as a result of guns.

What is Washington State doing to prevent such tragic consequences?

King County’s LOK-IT-UP campaign seeks to increase the safe storage of firearms and prevent access in households where there is gun ownership. Although LokItUp originally started in 1997, it relaunched in November 2013 with funding support in partnership with Harborview, Seattle Children’s, Washington State Department of Health, as well as multiple law enforcement agencies and gun retailers in King County.

Safely storing guns not only saves lives, but it reduces both unintentional injury and suicide rates by as much as 30 to 50 percent. LOK-IT-UP and similar programs nationwide also reduce the likelihood of gun theft, potentially preventing future use of the unsecured gun in other crimes.

LOK-IT-UP’S website provides information on the different kinds of safe storage devices and where to buy them, tips for parents on talking to their children about firearm safety and patient education materials for healthcare providers.

To learn more about LOK-IT-UP, contact Whitney Taylor at

 New events on H.E.R.E.

For a complete list of trainings, conferences, and webinars check out our Trainings and Events page.

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