Innovator to reshape health department in Allegheny County
When Dr. Karen Hacker takes over the Allegheny County Health Department, expect change.
An innovator who in Massachusetts brought together hospitals, universities and communities to raise low immunization rates, increase pediatric mental health screenings and reduce cases of adult diabetes, Hacker plans to reshape the department, advance new priorities and shepherd it through the complexities of federal health care reform.
“She is not there to conduct business as usual. That's not who she is,” said Dr. David A. Link, chair of the Institute for Community Health in Cambridge, Mass., where Hacker was the executive director.
She will start on Tuesday, replacing acting Director Ronald Voorhees, who took over when County Executive Rich Fitzgerald ousted longtime health director Bruce Dixon in 2012. Hacker, her husband, Eric Menninger, and two dogs — CeCe, a poodle, and Jack, a Portuguese water dog — recently moved into a house near Highland Park.
She has a full agenda. She wants to address obesity, promote physical activity among county residents and improve access to health care.
“I tend to be someone who is looking toward the future,” Hacker told the Tribune-Review on Wednesday. “I really think the idea here is to try to make things better. It's just not to maintain the status quo — unless the status quo is perfect and everyone is completely happy with it.”
YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh President and CEO Rig Riggins said he's optimistic about Hacker's focus on obesity, which he called an epidemic. About 30 percent of adults and 12 percent of children in Pennsylvania are obese, according to a 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
“Taking an aggressive approach to mainstreaming preventative measures and weight management programs will go a long way in helping to stave-off chronic diseases, such as diabetes, which are directly linked to obesity,” Riggins said.
Hacker will make $195,000 a year, of which the Heinz Endowments will contribute $50,0000 annually. The Allegheny County Health Department, one of four county health departments in the state, employs about 350 people and has a budget this year of $27.89 million. In addition to traditional public health duties, the department oversees air quality, restaurant inspections, food safety, plumbing, waste management and water pollution.
“I do think it's very important that she makes improving air quality one of her key issues,' said Rachel Filippini, the executive director of Group Against Smog and Pollution, who hoped Hacker would be a “clear voice for clean air.”
When hired as director in May, Hacker said environmental issues were not her areas of expertise.
Filippini wants Hacker to continue to look at large industrial sources of air pollution, such as the Shenango Inc. coke plant on Neville Island, and work to minimize diesel emissions.
Tom Hoffman, the Western Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action, said he hopes Hacker would build on successes in improving air quality and use her position to advocate for green solutions — such as permeable pavement, green roofs and planters designed to manage runoff — to the county's sewage overflow problem, caused when storm water overwhelms combined sewer systems.
The Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, will present the health department with new challenges as it rolls out next year. Hacker's experience in Massachusetts, where a health care overhaul passed in 2006, has prepared her for the challenges of rolling out the massive policy and its aftermath, she said. She stressed the federal mandate will change the way hospitals work with their communities and with the public health department.
“Most of us think of the (Affordable Care Act) as mostly focused on expansion and that's great,” Hacker said. “But we don't always think about what's the flip side of that. How do you serve all those populations? What does that mean for local businesses and local employers, as well as your health care delivery system?”
Regardless of the issue, Hacker plans to engage the community to develop solutions.
“I'm a community organizer at heart, so being able to get out there and actually find out what people feel are the issues they want to address and also to rally people around certain issues so we can work toward a common goal,” she said.
Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Hill District leaders irked as Penguins submit former Civic Arena site plan to city
- Job prospects drawing workers to Western Pennsylvania
- City’s plan for Strip flummoxes vendors
- Family becomes ‘forever’
- Judge denies request to lift gag order in Ford case
- Orders for Pittsburgh police hats soar with new uniform policy
- Google grants teachers’ school supply wishes
- Marshall land parcel along Route 910 eyed as park site
- State lawmakers delay hearings on Corbett’s review of academic standards
- Unprepared law firms vulnerable to hackers
- CDC backlog means W.Pa, likely won’t get respiratory virus diagnoses quickly