Nationally-recognized PC Public Health Director passionate about prevention
In 2014, National Public Health funding was still below pre-recession levels with expenditures almost 9% lower per person than they were in 2008, according to a 2015 study by the Public Health Economics.
Wisconsin, however, is especially low on the per-capita expenditures totem pole, according to a 2014-2015 analysis of State Investment in Public Health by Trust For America's Health.
Wisconsin only spent $15 per capita in 2014-2015 on public health, ranking 40th in the nation, just above Minnesota which spent $14.60 ranking 41st.
This underinvestment in public health along with the mission behind its programs advocating for prevention are just a few reasons Pierce County Public Health Director AZ Snyder dedicates herself to the field.
"We invest an incredible amount of money in health care in the United States but we pay so little attention to the primary prevention approach. That's why I got into public health. I think it's the most effective and efficient intervention there is," Snyder said.
Snyder's passion for public health has taken her everywhere from the Baltimore area of Maryland for a position as Director of Assessment and Planning to Lesotho, South Africa helping children affected by HIV.
"It was horrific watching these kids die," Snyder recalled from her international health experience. "I couldn't stop thinking about all the public health measures that were available to us that could have been utilized if there was enough funding and resources that would have prevented these kids or their parents from ever contracting HIV."
For just one year Snyder has served the people of Pierce County, and in her year of employment has been nationally recognized for her dedication to public health at a young age.
The de Beaumont Foundation awarded Snyder as a recognized leader younger than 40 years of age in public health by naming her one of 40 Under 40 in Public Health in May 2019.
"This is really cool because most of these 40 under 40 lists focus on business or health care, no list like this has focused on governmental public health before," Snyder said.
Pierce County Administrative Coordinator Jason Matthys said he was excited to hear of Snyder's award.
"This recognition is certainly deserving for her efforts. In just her first year of employment with Pierce County she has been determined to modernize Public Health in Pierce County and focus on current trends that impact the health of our citizens. AZ has rallied with other stakeholders to share in this vision and implement the necessary programmatic changes through collaboration, creativity and innovation," Matthys said.
"I think the reason this award is so important, it's not just about me, it's about young professionals in public health. Only 22% of governmental public health workforce are millennials and that's compared to 35% in the general workforce. We need to nurture that leadership pipeline to make sure we have young people prepared to take on the mantle when the next generation decides to retire," Snyder said.
The de Beaumont Foundation, which has been around since 1998, focuses on advancing policies to benefit community health and equip future public health leaders. Their 40 Under 40 list highlighted two other Wisconsin public health affiliates alongside Snyder: Amy Olejniczak from Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health and Christa Cupp with Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Another rural health department was also recognized on the list.
"Most honorees were from state, regional or national organizations. To have some representation from local rural health departments was really cool," Snyder said.
This award gave Snyder a chance to bring awareness to the need for public health funding from the state and also the importance of public health which is often overlooked or misunderstood, Snyder said.
Pierce County's public health department, with the committed support and direction from Snyder, is heading up partnerships with St. Croix County and area hospitals to improve on mental health and substance abuse issues. The department has also recently expanded their Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to Pepin County in response to the decrease in caseloads as birth rates drop.
Snyder said ultimately the Pierce County public health department will continue to influence and advocate for policy and systems changes that benefit the public.