Your Public Health Staff

Your Public Health Staff

In January 2020, the Health Department activated its Health Operations Center to address an emerging concern that would become the global COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, hundreds of Health staff—with support from our state and community partners – have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to keep Vermonters safe, supported, and informed. 

These are some of public health heroes who have shown exemplary service to their teams and Vermonters during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many, many more staff members who have quietly given everything they have to this response every day. We wish we could recognize them all!

To all Vermonters from your Health Department staff – thank you for the sacrifices you have made this past year. We are here for you and in this with you.

Click on an image below to learn more about their role in the COVID-19 response.
 
Photo of Health Department Staff Julie Benedict

Julie Benedict, Command Section

My role in the COVID-19 response:

Is the Vermont Department of Health Partner Representative to the State Emergency Operations Center. I’m the liaison between the Health Operations Center and the State Emergency Operations Center. So basically, coordinating efforts across the two Emergency Operations Centers.

My typical job is:

Health’s Exercise and Training Administrator. I’m responsible for ensuring staff are trained and ready to work in the Health Operations Center.  I would be continuing to develop interactive training and exercises to ensure we can manage any incident. 

One thing I’ll always remember from working on COVID-19:

Working with my partner, Bill. I don’t normally get to work with Bill as closely as I do now.  He’s such a good wingman and has a great sense of humor that has helped me get through this response.

What I’m most looking forward to:

Getting back to the fun things I used to do:  Seeing my extended family, leading a Girl Scout Troop, advising a High School Beading Club, and getting together with friends. 

Photo of Health Department Staff Lillian Colastrudo

Lillian Colasurdo, Legal

My role in the COVID-19 response:

I provide legal advice to the Infectious Disease Program and the Health Operations Center during a pandemic.

My typical job is:

The Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Health. When I’m not working on COVID-19, I am answering legal questions for many other incredibly important programs at the Department of Health in divisions like Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Maternal Child Health and Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention.

Working on the COVID-19 response has been:

Exhausting but rewarding! This has been a such a stressful and heartbreaking time for people everywhere but knowing that each day I get to wake up and be part of Vermont’s COVID-19 response team gives me an enormous amount of pride. Everyone has put in so much time and energy, and I know for me, working as part of the State’s phenomenal response has really kept me motivated and afloat throughout the past year.

One thing I’ll always remember from working on COVID-19:

There have been a few stressful moments that I’m sure will stay with me for a while. But overall, what I’ll remember the most is witnessing coworkers accomplish the impossible every day. As part of the Department’s legal counsel, I am often included in discussions about what needs to be accomplished and within what parameters. But I’m not always a part of the discussion of how it will be accomplished. Then I take a step back and get to watch folks like epidemiologists, business administrators, and public health nurses move mountains to make it all happen.

What I’m most looking forward to:

Seeing loved ones and travel! I’ve also really missed live performances for music, theater, and comedy. It will be great to see a show at The Flynn again.

Photo of Health Department Staff Brenda Deering

Brenda Deering, Logistics

My role in the COVID-19 response:

Is the Logistics Section Chief. We manage a small but mighty team provisioning new staff with computers, phones, and account access for their work in the Health Operations Center (HOC). We provision teams with products and services needed for their work in all branches of the HOC, and we demobilize HOC staff, collecting equipment and revoking access to accounts and software no longer needed.  We also process all orders for vaccine transferred to locations from the Vaccine Depot.

My typical job is:

The Division Administrator for Environmental Health. If I wasn’t working on COVID-19, I’d be working on contracts and grants for our programs, budgeting, helping staff navigate computer issues, ordering and paying for items for program needs, navigating human resources needs for staff and supervisors, and communicating with staff and other divisions.

One thing I’ll always remember from working on COVID-19:

All the new people I have worked with and gotten to know better. This response has been a rollercoaster of feelings; satisfaction in a job well done, feeling like you are running 100 miles an hour, isolation, appreciation for the work of others and being part of an amazing team, frustration, joy of working with people I haven’t worked with in a long time or getting to know someone new, and most of all being proud to work for the Vermont Department of Health.

What I’m most looking forward to:

A vacation!  One whole week without email, chat, sitting at my kitchen table for hours, thinking, and problem solving.  Relaxing outdoors, with lots of people around.

Photo of Health Department Staff Will Fritch

Will Fritch, Epidemiology Healthcare Outbreak Prevention and Response Team

My role in the COVID-19 response:

I am currently working as a Healthcare Outbreak Prevention and Response (HOPR) Team Lead. The HOPR team works with healthcare personnel in Vermont to prevent COVID-19 from entering their facilities, or to address cases or outbreaks of COVID-19 once it has been detected. This work can range from proactive infection control assessments to case-driven rapid response team calls.

My typical job is:

A Nurse Program Coordinator in the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program. My focus is on healthcare associated infections and antimicrobial resistance. In this work, my role involves everything from prevention activities to response to acute situations. Both before COVID-19 and during, I work closely with a facility’s infection preventionist(s) to enact containment measures.

One thing I’ll always remember from working on COVID-19:

All the Health Department’s Epidemiology, Lab, and Department of Aging and Independent Living staff who showed up for early morning and late-night response calls with long-term care facilities. We became like a little family, quirks and all. There were moments of happy tears and moments of sad tears. There was a time when one of our partners had a rooster rehabilitating in their living room, who would occasionally chime in for our calls. Members of our teams rang in the new year on response calls with facilities. This has been a challenging year and I will never forget how our teams supported one another through it. 

What I’m most looking forward to:

When it’s safe for me to get together with my friends from work and reflect on all the memorable moments from this response. More generally, I’m looking forward to seeing all the activity in my community (Burlington/Winooski), as COVID-19 is less of a concern for those visiting with loved ones, seeing live music, or eating indoors at restaurants.

Photo of CDC Staff for VDH Lauren Ho

Lauren Ho, Planning Section

My role in the COVID-19 response:

I’m the Planning Section Chief (PSC). My role supports the coordination of the Health Operations Center (HOC) through the Incident Action Plan (IAP). The PSC collects incident priorities from the Incident Commander and tasks from the HOC sections, and compiles the IAP. The PSC supervises a team of folks working on resource tracking, demobilization, documentation, situational awareness and Geographic Information System mapping. The PSC works with the command staff and section chiefs to coordinate, plan ahead, and track work happening in the incident. In the COVID response, the PSC has also taken on additional roles—from scheduling to meeting invites—in order to support the HOC response and fill in gaps until additional staff support is brought in.

My typical job is:

A CDC Preparedness Field Assignee. As a field assignee, my role is to support the public health preparedness and response capabilities for Vermont. I work on the Public Health Emergency Preparedness grant. I work on emergency preparedness plans and supporting preparedness training and exercise efforts.

A main takeaway from working on this response has been:

The opportunity to work and collaborate with various health department staff from across different divisions that I normally would not have worked with. I have formed new work relationships, learned from other’s strengths, and gained new skills. Seeing public health staff from different program backgrounds work towards the shared goal of protecting the health of Vermonters from COVID has been great. I am impressed by the dedication and capability of staff to work on areas of the response that are different from their regular job duties to support the response mission.

What I’m most looking forward to:

Traveling to see family and friends and exploring new places around the world.

Photo of Health Department Staff Catherine Knott

Catherine Knott, Epidemiology Data Follow-Up

My role in the COVID-19 response:

I’m the Contact Tracing Data Team Lead. My team handles all things data for the contact tracing process including: entry and opening of COVID labs and cases, assigning of cases and contacts to Contact Tracing team members, quality control of case records, and training of users in our case database system.

My typical job is:

The vector-borne and zoonotic disease epidemiologist within the infectious disease epidemiology group at the Health Department. This time of year, I would be working on final reports for mosquito and tick activity from last year and getting ready to make sure folks know about tick season starting once as the snow melts and folks head outside more again.

One thing I’ll always remember from working on COVID-19:

Back in the early days when we were working incredibly long days and nights in the office, being incredibly grateful when pizza would randomly appear and realizing I hadn’t eaten yet that day. This work has meant a lot of long days, endless collaboration between our epidemiology teams, and ever-changing new challenges to solve.

What I’m most looking forward to:

Seeing my nephew and getting to spend time with my dance community again. For years I’ve contra danced and done partner dancing like West Coast Swing and waltzing, and I can’t wait to see all those lovely humans again (and seeing if I remember how to dance!).

Photo of Health Department Staff Sheri Levine

Shari Levine, Crisis Emergency Risk Communication

My role in the COVID-19 response:

As part of the Crisis Emergency Risk Communication team, I manage the Health Department’s social media channels with Allie Breyer. In the past I worked on small social media projects, but this is the first time as the lead coordinating the strategy for the Department. 

My typical job is:

The Information Director for the Maternal and Child Health Division. I promote programs that support the health of Vermont’s children and families. Some examples include Help Me Grow Vermont, Strong Families Vermont Nurse Home Visiting Program, and youth suicide prevention.

One thing I’ll always remember from working on COVID-19:

I love being part of the CERC Team and working with dedicated colleagues who share my passion for public health communications.

What I’m most looking forward to:

A travel adventure somewhere far away from my home office where I can immerse myself in another culture and have new experiences. 

Photo of Health Department Staff Paul Meddaugh

Paul Meddaugh, Epidemiology Data Team

My role in the COVID-19 response:

I am a branch lead for the Early Cluster Detection & Outbreak Data Management Branch of the COVID-19 Data Team. I work with my co-leads to supervise a team of health analysts that support the Department's facility outbreak response teams. We help identify possible outbreaks of COVID-19 early to decrease the spread of disease. Additionally, my team develops tools and processes for data collection, tracking and reporting of COVID-19 outbreaks. We analyze data related to COVID-19 outbreaks in response to internal, external, and media requests. 

My typical job is:

The epidemiologist for the diabetes and heart disease prevention program. I conduct surveillance related to diabetes and heart disease and their associated risk factors among Vermonters. I also look at the impacts of these diseases on Vermont’s healthcare system and mortality to help Health Department staff make informed decisions on how to target resources for management and prevention efforts.

One thing I’ll always remember from working on COVID-19:

Despite the long hours, intensity, and stress, it has been rewarding and gratifying to be a part of this response to a public health emergency that is unprecedented in the lives of most of us. I also feel very lucky to be surrounded by amazing co-workers who care as much and work as hard as I do. Nothing else mattered. Whatever work needed to be done, people were willing to do it. We all wanted to be of service.

What I’m most looking forward to:

Not having to wear a mask and seeing my family; they live in New York and I haven’t really been able to see them over the past year. Going to the movies and out to a local brewery and enjoying some live music are also very high on my list.

Photo of Health Department Staff Joan Marie Misek

Joan Marie Misek, Office of Local Health

My role in the COVID-19 response:

I’m a Division Supervisor in the COVID-19 Health Operations Center. This role is manages the district office operations and staff supervision, including coordinating and working the COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinics.

My typical job is:

Public Health Services District Director. The bulk of my work includes collaborating with community partners to address emerging public health issues, serve a leadership role in central Vermont’s Accountable Community for Health, called THRIVE, to improve the social determinants of health across sectors, policies, and communities. I also work to promote health equity and  communicate important public health data and information. And, of course, supervising and managing our district office and staff.

Working on this response has been:

Intense, challenging, exhausting, emotional, purposeful, and inspiring. As a public health official, I have felt a deep sense of responsibility and accountability to protect everyone’s health during these times. 

It’s been a wild ride and it’s taught me how to adapt quickly and ride whatever wave comes next. Lately, I’ve been feeling like sea glass: At the beginning of the pandemic, I was sharp with edges, more resistant to having to drop everything and pivot- over and over and over in a single day. But now, my edges are smoother. I am better able to glide and surf the waves as needed.

More than anything, I have felt so grateful to serve in the epicenter of Vermont’s COVID response and represent VDH and the Division of Local Health. I feel great pride to work for VDH and live in a state where leadership is not afraid to use data and common sense over politics in decision-making. Not only has the COVID response work been everything that compels me about the field of public health, but it’s been a gift to wake up each day with a deeply felt sense of purpose and be in a position where I can be of use. 

What I’m most looking forward to:

Is being able to see my son, Oliver, who has been in California this past year serving in AmeriCorps N*CCC. He’s only 18 and this is his first time away from home. It’s been a long stretch! 

Photo of Health Department Staff Julia Pringle

Julia Pringle, Epidemiology Outbreak Prevention and Response Team

My role in the COVID-19 response:

I’m a co-Lead for the Outbreak Prevention and Response Team. My duties include working with non-healthcare facilities in response to cases and outbreaks of COVID-19.

My typical job is:

With the Health’s Infectious Disease epidemiology team on infectious disease outbreak responses and analytical projects. I came to Vermont in August 2019 for a two-year fellowship program with the CDC called the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS). EIS Officers are assigned to positions either at CDC headquarters or in a state or local health department to gain experience in applied epidemiology and outbreak investigations. 

What I’ve learned from working on COVID-19:

When I signed up for a training fellowship in outbreak investigation, I never bargained for a global pandemic of this scale! I've certainly learned more this year working on the Outbreak Prevention and Response team than I ever imagined possible in one year's time. Despite the past year being undoubtedly tiring and challenging, it has been full of silver linings. In particular, I've loved meeting so many Health Department colleagues from different divisions and district offices as well as partners in other state agencies. We work with a tremendous group of people, and I've really valued getting to know everyone better through this work (and virtually meeting so many pets and kids too!).

What I’m most looking forward to:

Seeing my family and friends back home in Baltimore. It's been a long time. I'm really looking forward to giving big hugs to all the people I've missed!

Photo of Health Department Staff Lauren Prinzing

Lauren Prinzing, Epidemiology Data Team

My role in the COVID-19 response:

I am co-lead of the Epidemiology Data Management and Analysis Team, which is composed of five branches. This team has grown from 5 people in March of 2020 to 50 people in March of 2021. In addition to the administrative and managerial duties that come with being an overall team co-lead, I am also a lead and active member of the Case, Lab, and Contact Data Analysis and Reporting Branch (the Reporting Team). The Reporting Team is responsible for ensuring the accuracy of Vermont’s case data, providing daily data to update Vermont’s COVID-19 dashboard, producing a weekly data summary, and responding to data requests from within state government, the media, and the public. 

My typical job is:

I am the epidemiologist for our Environmental Public Health Tracking and Climate & Health programs. I normally spend my time analyzing the health impacts of climate change in Vermont (heat- and cold-related illness, helping assess the health benefits of home weatherization), as well as sending environmental health data (drinking water quality, radon, asthma and COPD hospitalizations) to CDC twice a year. We would also be very busy working to migrate our Public Health Data Explorer to new, more modern data visualization software.

One thing I’ll always remember from working on COVID-19:

Collaborating with my colleagues on the reporting branch of the data team!  They inspire me day after day by going above and beyond, never complaining when more is asked of them, and making me laugh. Being able to keep laughing, even on the hardest days, has been a huge piece of helping me get through this past year. It feels like drinking from a fire hose every day and there is always more to do. They are also all incredibly smart and passionate and I learn new things from them all the time.

What I’m most looking forward to:

Seeing my sister, who lives in South Carolina. I haven’t seen her in over a year. I can’t wait to go play on the beach with her and her pup, Cado!

Photo of Health Department Staff Alan Saltis

Alan Saltis, Operations Section

My role in the COVID-19 response:

I’m the HOC Vaccine Testing Registration Manager. My responsibilities include being the lead trainer, working with partners to implement systems, and developing teams to complete all tasks related to registration. 

My typical job is:

A Substance Use Prevention Consultant for the Middlebury District Office. In my role I support our local prevention coalition, facilitate sub-committees, assist partners with community grants, and plan trainings.

For me, this response has been:

Exciting, tiring, rewarding, and challenging all at the same time. It’s equal parts how amazing my team is and all the people we have helped get tested and vaccinated. 

What I’m most looking forward to:

Spending more time with family, traveling, dining out, concerts, live sports, you know, all the things that involve being around people.

When I’m not working, I enjoy:

Weekends at the mountain snowboarding and warmer months chasing my ball around the golf course.

Photo of Health Department Staff, Rachel Wassel

Rachel Wassel, Contact Tracing Team

My role in the COVID-19 response:

I am both a Contact Tracing Care Coordinator and a Contact Tracing Clinical Lead. As a care coordinator, I work to support Vermonters to problem-solve identified barriers to isolation and quarantine guidance. As a Clinical Lead, I advise contact tracers around challenging situations, aggregate information regarding school, workplace, and healthcare exposures for follow up by our Outbreak Prevention teams, and review the investigation files created by the contact tracing workforce.

My typical job is:

During non-covid times I am a medical social worker for Children with Special Health Needs, a department of Maternal and Child Health. Typically, I support families in Orange, Washington, and northern Windsor counties whose children face medical complexities and/or developmental disabilities. I would be working with community partners across that region to increase access to services and support for families and children.

Working on the COVID-19 response has been:

Working on the COVID-19 response has been both challenging and engaging. I have learned an entirely new role in Contact Tracing and now act as a clinical lead for the contact tracing team. Through contact tracing it became apparent that isolation and quarantine guidance was a hardship for many Vermonters to follow. As a result, two of my social work colleagues and I initiated a care coordination program which aims to help problem solve those barriers. In both my care coordination and contact tracing roles I am interacting with folks directly impacted by COVID-19 and their experiences range in severity. Ultimately, I am glad I get to play an active role in supporting them through this time as well as supporting other contact tracers.

One thing I’ll always remember from working on COVID-19:

I will always remember how quickly things shifted from business as usual to all-hands-on-deck. When I got called up to the HOC in March of 2020, I reported to a conference room in 108 Cherry Street. There were about 15 other folks in a room outreaching the first wave of COVID-19 cases. None of us wore masks, we washed our hands and stations and sanitized a ton. We did the best we could with the information we had at the time. I still get to work with many of those folks today, although now we work from home and see each other through Teams Meetings!

What I’m most looking forward to:

Gathering with friends and seeing live music. My husband and I had been planning a wedding for October 2020 which quickly was canceled. We had a beautiful backyard ceremony with our parents last May, but we would like to have a larger celebration one day that our siblings, family and friends could attend. We are also expecting our first child in May!