Public Health in the Age of COVID-19

It’s All about Relationships
April 19, 2020

A Note from SfAA Executive Director Neil Hann

Many of you know that I spent 34 years in public health at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) before becoming the Executive Director of SfAA. Before retiring as Assistant Deputy Commissioner in 2017, my primary focus was working with communities on health improvement initiatives. Those key applied social science principles of listening to community members, working with communities to identify local priorities, and tailoring population-based interventions to the unique characteristics of community culture and ideals in many ways transformed how public health was delivered in Oklahoma. Foundational to these community engagement concepts is relationships, without which public health would be far less effective.

COVID-19 has reminded all of us about the importance of relationships during a worldwide public health crisis. Shortly after the SfAA 2020 Annual Meeting was canceled, I was asked by the OSDH to return and assist with the response. Over the last several weeks, I have been reminded over and over why public health relies so heavily on relationships and collaborative partnerships with our community stakeholders. With the public health crisis changing rapidly not only on a day by day basis, but literally minute by minute, reaching out to our community partners has been absolutely critical. Whether it was helping with the delivery of social distancing prevention messages, or organizing local drive-through testing sites, or working so hard to protect the most vulnerable, the relationships with our community partners have proven to be invaluable.

For our SfAA student members, I encourage you to consider a career in public health. The importance of strengthening our public health infrastructure and working with our community partners has never been clearer. The skills and knowledge you learn in the applied social sciences have direct application to the public health field, and we need new talent now more than ever.

Finally, I would like to thank the SfAA Board of Directors for their support while I have been detailed to the OSDH. And, I especially thank my extraordinary colleagues, Melissa Cope, Trish Colvin, and Don Stull for keeping things running smoothly while I have been away. 

We will get through this pandemic. On the other side, public health will be stronger and the importance of the applied social sciences – and community relationships – will be solidified.

Neil E. Hann, MPH, CHES
Executive Director
Society for Applied Anthropology

©Society for Applied Anthropology 

P.O. Box 2436 • Oklahoma City, OK 73101 • 405.843.5113 •