April 04, 2022

DHSS celebrates public health leaders

Public health professionals impact health and wellness throughout Missouri


Media Contact:
Lisa Cox, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services

JEFFERSON CITY, MO – Public health efforts have been active for more than a century, but the COVID-19 global pandemic has brought newfound attention to its importance. It has also spotlighted just a small portion of what public health professionals do each day. To put it simply, public health works to prevent illness and disease, promote healthy lifestyles and protect individuals from hazards. This National Public Health Week, April 4-10, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) is telling the real stories of public health professionals and why they continue to love their jobs – even during a pandemic. 

“Our Missouri public health professionals at the local and state levels are the unsung heroes of the past two years,” said Paula Nickelson, Acting Director of DHSS. “Although these times have been incredibly challenging, our DHSS team and our partners in public health have stepped up to each challenge, continually putting the needs of Missourians first. I am grateful for the dedication and compassion these public servants exhibit.” 

Alongside DHSS team members, local public health agencies address a wide range of public health issues, from assessing environmental safety to providing emergency services during natural disasters. They protect food safety by inspecting restaurants and grocery stores, while simultaneously working to control communicable diseases such as flu and tuberculosis and alleviating chronic conditions including heart disease, diabetes and stroke in their communities.

Kristi Campbell, director of the Cole County Health Department, gets satisfaction from meeting the everyday needs of county residents, even if those needs are intangible and addressed silently.

“Most of the time we deliver the services in the background every day that affect people’s lives, and people don’t realize it,” said Campbell. “Knowing that the food is safe, that the child care is safe, that the lodging establishment you’re staying in is safe…it makes me proud to know that this is the work we are doing every day, and people don’t have to think about it. They don't have to think about things being safe. It just is.”

While the 115 local public health agencies are autonomous in Missouri, they work closely with DHSS to bring statewide initiatives and programs to the local level, while identifying and tailoring them to the specific needs of their unique communities. 

“Our local public health agencies have been the frontline heroes because in Missouri we couldn’t deliver statewide public health services without them. I can’t say enough about them,” said Lori Brenneke, director of the DHSS Division of Community and Public Health. “Talk about passion. Talk about people who are dedicated. Talk about people who love their communities and the people they serve. They put in an incredible amount of hours. They know their communities. They get out and about with them to find what it is they need and how they can make a difference. They try to fill the gaps…they know somebody has to do it to give people a better quality of life.”

As Missouri continues responding to endemic COVID-19, the public is now highly familiar with communicable disease prevention measures like vaccinations, using masks when appropriate and maintaining distance from others. Another important piece of preventing oneself from becoming severely ill from any disease is maintaining overall health and wellbeing. 

“I hope in the future that we can focus on healthier lifestyles and we can work with people to be healthier every day so no matter what communicable disease or chronic disease scare they might face, it will make them healthier and better able to deal with those crises,” said Campbell.

Governor Mike Parson issued a proclamation observing National Public Health Week, April 4-10, and called upon Missourians to join in the observance by helping families, friends, neighbors, coworkers and leaders better understand the value of public health and supporting great opportunities to adopt preventive lifestyle habits.

Listen to more Missouri public health professionals’ stories here.


About the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services: The department seeks to be the leader in protecting health and keeping people safe. More information about DHSS can be found at health.mo.gov or find us on Facebook and Twitter @HealthyLivingMo.