Highlights from the 2015 State of the Public’s Health Conference

The 4th annual State of the Public’s Health (SOPH) conference was held Tuesday, October 6, 2015 and featured presentations from top national, regional, and state public health leaders. View the conference program here.

Keynote Speakers:

  • Jeff Levi, Executive Director of Trust for America’s Health, will explore opportunities and challenges of advancing public health in a reforming health care system;
  • José Carlos León Vargas, International Cooperation and Development Director of Solidaridad Internacional Kanda, will share insights about creating inclusive communities that address health disparities;
  • Kaye Bender, President and CEO of Public Health Accreditation Board, will discuss the benefits and barriers to public health accreditation;
  • Brenda Fitzgerald, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, will give an update on the state’s current public health initiatives

Conference Briefs and Commentary:

This playlist features commentary from keynote speakers, organizers and participants. Content was produced by graduate students in the Health & Medical Journalism Program at UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Lunch speaker: Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald

Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health and State Health Officer


By Erin Geoffroy


“Sometimes, we are tested,” said Brenda Fitzgerald, looking across a room filled with public health officials, scholars and students from throughout Georgia. Fitzgerald, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health and state health officer, was referring to the Ebola panic that shook the country last fall.


Between March 2014 and September 2015, more than 28,000 people were diagnosed with the potentially deadly Ebola virus, nearly all of them in three West African Counties. International travel restrictions snapped into place and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta became one of only five United States airports where flights from  Africa were allowed to land.


Although two Ebola patients arrived at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on August 2, public panic did not break out until October. That was when a Liberian man died in a Dallas hospital and two nurses who cared of him were infected.


Georgia’s leaders knew they needed a plan  Governor Nathan Deal quickly established an Ebola response team that included Fitzgerald, top law enforcement officials, the state medical examiner, funeral directors, and other key groups. The Department of Public Health sent letters to 40,000 physicians, providing guidelines for handling suspected Ebola patients.


Having a single information source for everyone was crucial. “Right from the beginning, we had a single number: 866-PUB-HEALTH,” said Fitzgerald.


Worried consumers could call for information. Hospitals called to report any suspected cases and to report how many beds they had available in case of an outbreak.


State leaders created several tools that would be useful if the spread of Ebola becomes a real threat in Georgia.  Fever is an indication of infection, and one of these was a smartphone app that medical personnel could use to send twice daily temperature readings to the department of health.

Fitzgerald is proud of the state’s efforts during the crisis. A legacy of the effort is a regional plan for coordinating outbreak response and transportation, which she said is now a model for other states.

Fitzgerald beamed when she said, “I believe that everyone was tested and found formidable.”