By Joel Hall
The Georgia Public Health Association (GPHA) recently elected Dr. Alpha Fowler Bryan as the organization's president for 2010.
Bryan, who has been district health director of the Clayton County Board of Health since October 2007, will spend the next year leading, and lobbying for, public health officials across the state. According to GPHA Treasurer Gregory Fenno, the organization has more than 1,000 members, consisting of health officials, doctors, nurses, school superintendents, and legislators from around the state.
Bryan, a former district health director for Cobb and Douglas counties, as well as a former assistant division director for the Georgia Division of Public Health, was elected Dec. 4, 2009.
"This was our 80th annual meeting," Fenno said. "The original charge of the Georgia Public Health Association was to provide a forum for these individuals [public health officials] to hone their skills. That [mission] has expanded since then. You do have some legislative priorities. There is also a consistent drive to educate local board [of health] members about what their responsibilities are."
Fenno said Bryan will also be in charge of "setting the legislative agenda" for the organization, as well as defining its "objectives and goals for the next year."
Bryan said stabilizing funding for public health will be among the organization's top priorities this year. She said she is "quite humbled" by her election as president.
"We are getting ready to gear up for the 2010 legislative session, and there is a great concern about stability for public health funding," she said. "The trend has really been an erosion of the infrastructure, as well as decreasing the funds. As represented by the recent H1N1 [swine flu] episode, it is clear that infrastructure for public health is critical. We have gotten to a point where we have squeezed everything out, and we have had to reduce staffing, and that is across the state."
According to Bryan, the GPHA approved its 2010 legislative agenda during its Dec. 4 meeting in Macon. She said those goals include:
* Protecting funding for "grants-in-aid" to counties, and fighting to maintain other funding for public health.
* Seeing into fruition the establishment of a state Public Health Commission, in order to investigate the pros and cons of the state's recent decision to place public health under the auspices of the Georgia Department of Community Health, rather than the Georgia Department of Human Services (formerly known as the Department of Human Resources).
* Finding additional Medicaid support for county health departments.
* Encouraging legislators to consider other sources of revenue for public health.
Bryan said growing the GPHA's membership will also be one of her key objectives. She said the organization's membership consists mostly of state and county public health employees, and that she would like to have more members hailing from the private sector.
"Most members of the organization work for the county or the state," she said. "I would really like for that to broaden to include businesses and private entities. To strengthen advocacy ... it is important to grow the organization. There is strength in numbers."
Fenno believes Bryan's "human relations skills" will help the organization reach its goals.
"We're at a crisis point right now [in terms of funding,]" Fenno said. "You have to convey what you need, and she can do that. She's big into coalition-building, she's big on partnerships, and all of those areas depend on a human touch. Everybody is excited about her leading us this year."