Jill Law, director of El Paso County Public Health since March 2012, received her registered nurse degree from Beth-El College of Nursing at UCCS and has a master’s in health administration from the University of Phoenix. Prior to her current position, she served as the agency’s division director of health services, overseeing six departments. Before joining EPCPH in 1995, she worked at Cedar Springs Psychiatric Unit and the Penrose Hospital Surgical Unit.
During the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires and ensuing floods, Law led teams that established and operated disaster assistance centers, helping thousands of residents.
Since moving from Kansas in 1983, she has hiked all over Colorado and enjoys taking crossfit classes and spending time with family and friends. Recently, Law took time with the Business Journal to talk about her career and goals.
How did your career as a nurse prepare you for your current role?
As nurses, we are expected to be flexible, adaptable and accustomed to change, and certainly, looking back, as a registered nurse — moving from looking out for the health of an individual [patient] to the health of a population — was a good fit. In public health, we really focus on population-based health outcomes. So having worked my way from registered nurse to public health nurse to program manager to division director to public health director was really 18 years of growing in my public health care roles and learning to shift and adapt into leadership roles.
As division director, I got to work closely with the past two public health directors — and that was my unknowing preparation for the role I had no idea would be my future career.
Prior to this role, what was the highlight of your career?
When I was the division director of health services, I really had the opportunity to bring together that clinical side and the population-based care side of public health. And really the highlight for me was being able to help facilitate taking the staff in the direction of population-based care, which involved shifting to the mindset that whatever we do on a day-to-day basis globally helps improve the overall population. The goal is to help improve the health of an entire population.
And we were able to have the luxury of helping design this building [on Garden of the Gods Road], along with the architects, engineers and plumbers. It was a year-long process and very exciting. We made an effort to match up our current needs with future needs. We built a building for the future.
What are the current challenges facing the health department?
Really, the challenges have and will continue to remain the same — and that is the ever-moving funding streams and the reduction in funding we have seen over the years in our federal and state contracts. We’re constantly being challenged with how to keep the core public services funded. For instance — [for] the reduction and control of communicable diseases — we do restaurant inspections to prevent food-borne illnesses and give immunizations to children and adults. Those are only two examples of services we provide that require resources in order to maintain those services for the public. Our funding streams come from federal, state and county [governments], fee-based services and donations.
During your tenure, what has been your most significant accomplishment?
We became the first accredited public health department in Colorado, by the National Public Health Accreditation Board. We are one of only 19 agencies accredited in the nation [out of about 3,000 agencies]. We are the only accredited agency in Colorado. The PHAB is governed by a board of directors who are public health leaders. Ultimately, by becoming an accredited facility, it really demonstrates meeting public health accountability standards — and very few agencies have even started the process. A community should have the luxury of knowing that its public health department has been put through a very detailed evaluation of their policy, procedures, what it delivers as its public health services, and its accountability standards.
What are your goals for the department in the next year or so?
One of the goals for 2014 is to be able to get back to focusing strictly on public health. In 2013, we went through a merger of services with the county. Previously, we had our own internal finance and employee benefit programs, and we’ve merged with El Paso County’s services. This allows me to not have to manage those two internal departments, which gives me time to focus on what I know best. I will continue to work on improving the funding streams for the agency, and I want to strengthen the public health system — which is more than a local health department. It’s all the agencies coming together and delivering services to improve overall health.
What’s one thing you’d like Colorado Springs to know about your department?
One of the key things I’d like Colorado Springs to know about the public health department is when there’s an emergency — like the Black Forest fire and the floods in Manitou Springs and elsewhere — that our team is onsite, responding and helping. It may be related to protection of groundwater and getting wells recapped or going into Manitou and guiding cleanup efforts, especially for restaurants. They have many challenges to clean up so they can rapidly and safely reopen for business.
And we really, really like what we do — serving the public — and we’re grateful for the opportunity. I’m going on 19 years, and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t really like it and believe in it. n CSBJ