NACCHO Immediate Past-President Jennifer Kertanis is known for her way with words. She’s often quoted for news articles, she sets the tone in board meetings, and she always has the right thing to say when presenting at a conference.
Her opening remarks at NACCHO 360 were not an exception, inevitably leaving a lasting memory for attendees.
During the opening general session, Kertanis lamented on the past year, the lost opportunities, but also overcoming obstacles as the President of NACCHO during COVID-19, some of which was captured in this thread on Twitter.
At the end of the address, she left members with a poem, written with the help of a friend, that perfectly summed up her experiences leading NACCHO and her local health department during the pandemic.
A POWERFUL FORCE
By: Jennifer Kertanis, President, NACCHO 20-21
Karen Ambler, Teacher, Cromwell CT
It was a year to remember
Will any of us forget?
When the COVID-19 virus
Sparked a worldwide health threat.
Health officials were all summoned
So we heeded the call,
To protect our communities
Rich and poor, big and small.
We were trained and we were ready
For this most historic time,
But never did we realize
The mountains we would climb.
Every headline told the story
Corona spreading state to state,
With community transmission
Our nation feared its fate.
Toilet paper rolls were scarce
Shelves in stores stood empty,
With curb side pickup and insta-cart
New trends for 2020.
We did our job without proper funds
Our plight fell on deaf ears,
Shortage of technology and contact tracers
We had feared this for years!
Our jobs were uphill battles
Science changing by the day,
We stayed abreast of trends and data
So we could lead the way.
Fielding questions from the public
Emails never ceased,
Made impossible decisions
So we could stop this fierce disease.
The inequities were blatant
Equal access compromised,
We tried with fury to bridge these gaps
So these cases would not rise.
“Social distance, wear a mask”
Became our public plea,
All while trying to manage
The shortage of PPE.
Dining rooms turned into offices
Every student had a tablet,
Zoom became a household word
Washing hands became a habit.
Seeing family through a window
Visiting loved ones through a phone,
Quarantining left so many
Feeling desperate and alone.
Businesses were closing
Air travel slowing to a halt,
Stores and churches were not safe
And it all appeared our fault.
Endless days and sleepless nights
So great were the demands,
Our jobs, with such high consequence
Only few could understand.
Friends and family polarized
All with different views,
Helping them decipher
What they heard on the evening news.
We opened test sights far and wide
And contact traced like no tomorrow,
While trying to stay optimistic
Despite the growing angst and sorrow.
We watched colleagues in the field
Well regarded and elite,
Be ridiculed and threatened
Careers ended in defeat.
Among frustration and the heartache
Were signs of hope and love,
Homemade masks, hearts on lawns
Ringing church bells from above.
We built relationships with many
Municipalities, businesses, and schools,
Imploring those we met
To please follow all the rules.
Citizens relied on our wisdom
And they put their trust in our hands,
We worked every day with conviction
To stop the spread all across the land.
As numbers rose, so did our stress
But at the end of the year,
Came the news from scientists
That a vaccine would soon be here.
December brought a time for hope
A vaccination was approved,
No one could imagine this feat
Of such great magnitude.
So we continued to respond
With resolve and commitment,
With lifesaving vaccinations
For this virus so malignant.
Cases are now plummeting
Therapeutics saving lives,
Now let’s capitalize on all we’ve done
We Need Departments that can thrive!
Despite our countless challenges
We’re now standing at the ready,
Infrastructures to be built
Let’s grow them strong and steady.
Our roles are so crucial
Today, and in the past,
The accomplishments that we’ve made
Justify a public health system that can last.
And to the staff of NACCHO
Who make us always feel supported,
Advocating on our behalf
Getting our stories captured and reported.
We’ve been part of a story
That we must now go out and share,
Advocating for resources
and making sure that funds are there.
So today I stand before you
Urging us to stay the course,
Dedicated to the common good
Together, a powerful force.
We’ll return to ways - some old, some new
All we’ve learned will guide our way,
Congratulations for an incredible job
Thanks to you, there’s a new day.
I’m sure I’m not alone when I say thank you, Jennifer, for sharing your experiences, your thoughtful remarks, and your leadership this past year. Your powerful words will certainly be remembered.
NACCHO 360 is currently taking place online. To watch the full address, you can register online at https://www.naccho360.org/