Meeting public health priorities during a pandemic

Jennifer Floyd

Jennifer Floyd, MPH ’06

Health Behavior and Health Education

During her career in public health, Jennifer D. Floyd, MPH ‘06, has seen many innovations and experienced a broad range of new challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the public health field like a seismic jolt, the repercussions of which amounted to a horizon filled with uncertainty.

Although her work environment and the guidelines she was committed to follow remained in a near constant state of flux, Floyd said it was vital to remain true to her commitment to serve the public good.

“The mission never changes. We always strive to improve the health of the communities we serve,” said Floyd, the deputy health officer and director for Wayne County Public Health.

“Everything else seemed to be a moving target since we were learning about this virus as we went along, day-to-day, but we still had a health department to run.

We still had to address the areas of public health that we normally serve, and all of the issues related to the pandemic were added to that.”

Besides dealing with the traditional role of public health in optimizing program delivery systems, adjusting to the changes in funding sources, and safely delivering existing programs, staying ahead of economic changes and the implications on the individuals the field serves, and managing the day-to-day issues related to personnel, labor relations and communications, the pandemic was omnipresent.

“I feel like we did a lot, with not much, considering the services we were able to provide during an international health crisis,” she said. “And we worked very hard to make those services as accommodating and equitable as possible.

“Fortunately for us, County Executive Warren C. Evans has always been extremely supportive of Wayne County Public Health.”

Since Floyd’s office serves the largest county in the state of Michigan, each day has presented a severe test. The pandemic added elements that no one in the profession had significant experience dealing with the issues they would encounter.

“Pandemic or not, there were still restaurants that needed to be inspected, children that needed to be screened for hearing and vision challenges, pools that needed to be sampled, programs to encourage breastfeeding and nutrition initiatives that still needed to be administered—and so on,” she said.

And through it all, the public health workforce faced a lot of threats during this time, and that is also not something we usually deal with.”

Floyd, who manages a workforce of 200 professionals, said there also were 3 a.m. inspections at adult care facilities and a race to get the most vulnerable population vaccinated.

“There was the stress related to dealing with severe illness and death on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “You would call someone one day to talk about their COVID case, and when you called the next day, they were deceased. It has been a very difficult time.

“None of us had ever lived through anything like this, so we were learning as we went. Our team worked the pandemic, but we also lived it like everyone else. Team members lost family members and friends like the rest of the public.”

Floyd received her bachelor’s degree in social sciences from the University of Michigan in 2004. She then earned master’s degrees in Health Behavior and Health Education from Michigan Public Health and social work from Michigan Social Work in 2006. She obtained her doctoral degree in health administration from Central Michigan University in 2017.

She credited her graduate work at Michigan Public Health with highlighting the nexus between social work and the field of public health.

“The education I received there was phenomenal, and the School of Public Health works very closely with us and there are Michigan students working at Wayne County Public Health today,” she said. “That connection doesn’t stop when you graduate because that huge alumni network is always there to support you, and the research conducted at Michigan helps share the lessons learned.”

Floyd also serves the public health community in a mentoring role as a member of the Leadership Oakland Cornerstone Program, and for the past 10 years she has volunteered as a preceptor and mentor for the Future Public Health Leaders Program through Michigan Public Health—an effort that encourages underrepresented college students to consider careers in public health.

“Being a mentor is a high priority for me,” she said. “I think it is incredibly important. That next generation of public health professionals needs to be properly groomed. I encourage people interested in public health to get into the field. There is a lot of very important work that needs to be done.”

Floyd said that despite the wave after wave of challenges the pandemic has brought to public health and to her role leading this large health department, she moves forward with gusto.

“There was seemingly endless stress and lack of sleep and tests to our resolve that we never expected to face, but through it all I find the public health field as rewarding as ever—absolutely,” she said. “It has been an extremely difficult time, but I see little miracles every day, and those moments stay with you.”