COG Principal Health Planner Jennifer Schitter
It has been over a year since the Ebola virus first reached U.S. soil. Reports of patients being tested in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia served as a reminder that communicable diseases are not contained by jurisdictional lines. Improving the region’s readiness and response to communicable diseases as well as addressing other public health concerns requires close coordination among area health officials. And COG Principal Health Planner Jennifer Schitter helps ensure that this coordination happens.
For example, in October, Schitter arranged for the COG Health Officials Committee (HOC) to meet with the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, developers of the Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics (ESSENCE) and public health preparedness personnel to promote a framework to coordinate communicable disease response across jurisdictions. This was the first step of many to enhancing the coordination of information and resources among health officials to ultimately enhance the health of the communities they serve.
“We’re coming upon a really unique time,” said Schitter. “Data is now being used in every field. We’re only just beginning to embrace all of this data to paint the picture of the health of a community.”
From her days as a graduate student at Purdue to her work with the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Virginia Department of Health, Schitter’s work has largely revolved around preparedness. Her work at COG goes beyond preparing for and mitigating emerging health threats.
She is dedicated to better understanding and improving life expectancy and quality of life for the region’s residents--a pivotal piece of Region Forward, COG’s vision for a more prosperous, accessible, livable, sustainable region. In November, Schitter has invited the Director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health to discuss the innovative research methods to the Health Officials Committee and even outside organizations like Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, Regional Primary Care Coalition, Kaiser Permanente, CareFirst, de Beaumont Foundation, Institute for Public Health Innovation, and others, to better measure livability targets related to Region Forward.
“We want this to be drilled down to the census-tract level, so that it speaks very closely to who is impacted,” said Schitter, who hopes that the resulting, robust report spurs interventions in communities in need.
The health needs of metropolitan Washington’s Latino community were front and center in October as Schitter led the effort to host the Regional Latino Health Disparities Conference with George Washington University’s Avance Center Advancement of Immigrant/Refugee Health and the Regional Primary Care Coalition. More than 200 health officials, policy experts, and community leaders attended to hear Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, Chair of the Healthcare Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Walter Tejada, vice chairman of the Arlington County Board, Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Navarro, and Jackie Reyes, Director of the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs in the District of Columbia, address health problems that affect Latinos as well as efforts underway to address these issues. The conference was another example of how COG and staff members like Schitter help bring the region together to tackle critical issues, like public health.