Board of Health welcomes new district director
by Bradley Hartsell
In addition to the regular discussion of budgets, programs and county health, the Coweta County Board of Health introduced the new District 4 region health director, Dr. Olubenga Obasanjo, during Tuesday’s meeting.
Obasanjo joins the region with considerable experience in both medicine and medical leadership. Obasanjo studied medicine in Nigeria in 1995, coming to America in the same year to continue his studies. He received his master’s and PhD degrees from the Johns Hopkins University.
For five years, until 2009, Obasanjo worked with HIV and AIDS support services. He then worked for the FDA as a medical officer, and later spending 18 months as an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland.
“I’ve been on the other side of it,” says Obasanjo of his work with the FDA and his current role as district health director for the west Georgia region that includes Coweta County. “I feel some of the pain when the Feds come down on us.”
Obasanjo had only been in official capacity for two weeks before Tuesday’s board of health meeting in Coweta. Even with such short time to fully survey the health landscape of western Georgia though, Dr. Obasanjo was prepared to speak on his vision as the new director.
Obasanjo’s primary focus, he reports, is to achieve accreditation for agencies, districts and health departments. According to Obasanjo, only 11 of 1,000 health districts in the United States are accredited. To Obasanjo, this number is astoundingly low. After reading the process for accreditation, though, he says “there’s no reason why we can’t do it.”
The Coweta board members showed interest in the significance of getting accredited, posing questions regarding Obasanjo’s goal for the region’s agencies.
Obasanjo replied that it helps build morale for local medical staffs. “It tells us we’re doing the right thing,” he explained. “What we’re doing well and how to keep it up.”
One of the requirements of obtaining the accreditation of these agencies is the placement of a full-time coordinator, which the doctor reports is currently being sought. By the Coweta board’s next meeting in November, Obasanjo vows to have more information on procuring accreditations and the progress of appointing a coordinator to begin the management of the project.
In addition to becoming accredited, Dr. Obasanjo is pushing the importance of social media, something he called a “double-edge sword” but went on to tout as the future of communication. Between information the health department can receive from Twitter and Facebook, partly through surveys, and the information they can send out, Obasanjo believes these “powerful tools” can mine that necessary information.
Obasanjo’s final bullet point to the board was old hat at board meetings. Funding, something he acknowledged is “always a challenge.” He said the board’s voice is more powerful than the health department’s and he told board members that he wants to “work with you to develop messages to get the funding.” When noting a lack of funding, Obasanjo specifically mentioned childhood obesity.
Preceding Obasanjo’s presentation was the financial report from Brigid Smith, who reported roughly equal numbers in terms of budget and revenue now as for last year. There was an artificial bump in the revenue numbers due to administrative claiming money from the state that happened to be sent in the two-month window the report covered. Smith reported expenses are down but the primary reason was because staffing is down.
The only point of contention for the board was a lack of a contingency plan for the upcoming retirements of several key members of the Coweta County Health Department, including Nurse Manager Alice Jackson. Jackson urged the board of the need to prepare and train their replacements in order to keep their strong immunization program running efficiently.
Newnan City Councilman George Alexander, who serves on the board of health, raised concerns over the fact a plan is not already in place. In the event an unforeseen illness removes Jackson from her position, the health department has no strategic plan in place.
“We’ve discussed some of it,” said Jackson to Alexander. “It’s on my list and I imagine it’s on [Dr. Obasanjo’s].
Obasanjo said he is trying to recruit people but that the private sector is cutting into potential candidates due to suppressed funding. He could offer nothing more than he hopes by the next board meeting he’ll have an answer.
The board of health meeting closed with Jim Wright again being nominated to serve as 2014 chairman.