Exciting leadership transitions are happening in the Oregon Occupational Public Health Program (OPHP), a collaboration between the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences (OccHealthSci) and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) for the surveillance of workplace and environmental hazards and injuries. After a planned succession, former Multiple Principal Investigators (MPIs) from both institutions, Ryan Olson (Occ Health Sci) and Curtis Cude (OHA), “passed the baton” to the new MPIs David Hurtado, ScD and Jen Seamans, MPH, respectively. Since assuming the MPI role in late 2022, Dr. Hurtado (associate professor, OHSU) has been directing the Oregon Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (OR-FACE) program. The OR-FACE program compiles a database of workplace fatalities and publishes abstracts and trends on this matter for every event and in-depth investigations of selected cases. Ms. Seamans recently joined OHA as the Environmental Public Health Surveillance Unit Manager, and you can learn more about her trajectory below:
Tell us more about yourself (career path, goals, anything you want us to know, etc.)
My path to environmental public health has been a very nonlinear one. At the small liberal arts college I attended in the Midwest, I double majored in math and sociology. It only took me 20 years to realize that this combination was ideal preparation for work as an epidemiologist! In between, I spent a lot of time working in the environmental field – as a field technician, a science educator and assessment practitioner, and as a community-based surface water quality program manager. I’ve also woven equity, inclusion, and anti-oppression work throughout all of these roles, building on formative experiences in Detroit, MI. Fast forward to 2023, following 3 intense years of COVID work – it feels like I have come full circle, and every day I make full use of every part of my background and experiences that seemed incongruous years ago. As someone who thinks in complex systems, synergies and feedback loops, it makes sense to me.
What current public health projects are you working on?
As the Environmental Public Health Surveillance Unit Manager, I support and lead a staff of 12 incredible public health professionals. Our work focuses on identifying environmental exposures and monitoring for human health impacts. In addition to our Occupational Public Health partnership with OHSU, other key projects include Oregon Environmental Public Health Tracking, environmental hazards, and syndromic surveillance (during the summer, members of our team serve as subject matter experts in emergency response for extreme heat and wildfire smoke), the Environmental Health Capacity program, and our Domestic Well Safety Program. Much of our work is collaborative with other state agencies, including environmental justice mapping and recreational water advisories with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, acute pesticide exposure surveillance via the Pesticide Analytic and Response Center led by Oregon Department of Agriculture, and occupational health indicators with Oregon OSHA. That’s the short version of a longer list. In public health, as with ecological systems, everything is connected, and part of our mission in surveillance is to provide the evidence that supports Health in All Policies.
What do you like most about working for OHA?
Hands down, the people. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of a team of talented public health professionals who are passionate about and dedicated to improving the health of Oregonians. Working for state government is not easy – there is no shortage of work to be done, often with limited resources. Especially on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, public criticism can be intense. At the same time, the ability to potentially stem the tide of downstream health consequences by addressing upstream environmental and social factors, and to do so in a way that is culturally responsive and centers communities, and often is more cost efficient than treating symptoms and health outcomes, is incredibly rewarding.
What are your favorite hobbies outside of work? Home-life is very important to our health and well-being and is interconnected to our work-life.
I am a parent of an amazing 17-year-old who just finished his junior year and is getting ready to make big decisions about life after high school. One of our favorite things to do is planning trips and traveling together, whether on a road trip through eastern Oregon to visit family in Idaho, or exploring further afield. In June, we are planning to walk about 275 km of the Camino de Santiago in Spain (Ruta Francés) together. We enjoy connecting with people wherever we go. It might also come as no surprise given my chosen field and my last name that I also crave spending time on the water, especially kayaking. When I was young, one of the things I loved the most was waking up early on a summer morning at my grandparent’s lake cottage in Michigan, when the whole world was quiet, gazing out across water that was still as a mirror. Our cats Freya and Áine also keep life interesting!
Dr. Olson continues his role as professor at Occ Health Sci and co-investigator in the OPHP. Mr. Curtis is now the healthy waters coordinator at OHA. Please extend our warm welcome to Ms. Seamans and our gratitude to Ryan and Curtis’ service and dedication to Oregon’s occupational health and safety!