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Health Department’s new chief known for innovation

WT24 Desk

As a graduate student working as a senior clerk in the Suffolk County Health Department, Patricia Boswell caught a glimpse into the world of public health,The Olympian reports.

It wasn’t the most adventurous perspective, developing job descriptions for different staff at the New York agency from behind a desk. But it’s an experience she can rely on to this day.

Now 58-year-old Boswell is stepping into the top public health post in Volusia County.

“That certainly gave me a great insight into what a public health department did because I had the opportunity to look at all the different positions in that agency,” she said of her early experience.

“I think looking at how you staff a county health department; how you fund some of the services being delivered and the type of duties — together gave me the operational, management perspective I was interested in.”

And there were other jobs in Medicaid and Medicare billing and as a legislative analyst.In 2001, she joined the Health Department in Pinellas County, where she was the department’s assistant director before her first day of work in Volusia on March 18.

She’s already started meeting with some of the stakeholders to learn more about some of the unique challenges county residents face, like the Healthy Start Coalition of Volusia and Flagler Counties and One Voice for Volusia.

Unlike more densely populated counties, there are fewer municipalities in sprawling Volusia. That could be a good thing, said Dixie Morgese, executive director of Healthy Start, pointing out the county is “a really good size for innovation.”

In Pinellas, for example, the Health Department piloted and then implemented a drive-thru window for the WIC program, which Boswell oversaw, for mothers who are pressed for time, Morgese said.

“To me that’s exciting because it means that when there’s ideas — especially when they’re ideas that come from consumers — about how to make public health better, that it’s someone who will listen and it’s someone who isn’t afraid to implement and innovate,” she said.

Working with local hospitals to develop a community health needs assessment, a federal requirement for all nonprofit hospitals, has been the earliest priority for Boswell.

“The next step after that is a community health improvement plan and our strategic plan, and they should all align,” Boswell said. “So if we, for example (looked at) infant mortality and there is a disparity in Volusia — now I haven’t drilled down to what that is — but if there was one we would begin to work with our partners in terms of how do we improve the health of pregnant women and birth outcomes and how do we get those babies to their first birthdays,” she explained.

As the administrator, Boswell said she wants to focus on oral health, chronic disease (which were identified in the health assessment), tobacco use, improving healthy eating and physical activity.

But the Health Department’s role is more about “being a player in the community in terms of improving community health,” Boswell said. “We’re not going to do this alone.”

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