School of Public Health

SPH news

Sph Collage 5
Posted Date: May 12, 2021

By Sally Crocker

Sph Collage 5Food has been an inspiration to student Amber Deckard’s academic career path and community service endeavors for as long as she can remember.

Deckard – winner of this year’s University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth (HSC) School of Public Health (SPH) Dean’s Commencement Award for Academic Achievement – grew up volunteering at food pantries with her family.

Her parents and siblings were very involved, and she became passionate about helping others in this way as well.

At the time, she hadn’t yet heard terms like “food insecurity” or studied the issues around challenges that people can face in their access to healthy, nutritious foods or finding resources to feed their families.

Her early volunteer experiences led to a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and then a move into public health. She graduated from HSC in May 2021 with a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree, Maternal and Child Health concentration.

“I have always wanted to make a difference and help others,” Deckard said. “It was during my senior year in undergraduate school that I took a step back to consider how food-related issues affect not just individuals but also communities and entire populations.”

“I began to see how I could make a bigger impact on health and nutrition by getting involved at the broader, public health level – this is what led me to HSC.”

Early into her graduate program, Deckard was matched to a research assistant position with FitWorth, the healthy city initiative championed by Mayor Betsy Price and the Fort Worth City Council and now supported by HSC.

Deckard has managed social media; worked on town halls, health fairs and community events; and engaged with citizens in conversations and action to build a healthier community.

When the pandemic hit, she helped FitWorth go virtual, with an online Tour de Fort Worth cycling event and a walking challenge where participants logged healthy steps and celebrated progress along the way.

She was also onboard when the program partnered with the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) to engage students of all ages, along with their families, in healthy lifestyle activities and goal setting.

For her SPH community internship experience, Deckard planned the FitWorth-FWISD Spring Wellness program that featured different health topics for each month from January through May 2021. The program has covered everything from nutrition to physical and mental health, staying active and more.

It’s estimated that the program has reached more than 85,000 students at every grade level, from elementary and middle school to high school. These students’ efforts have contributed to their own well-being and motivation, as well as cash prizes for their schools.

“The program is already seeing significant behavioral and activity changes among these students, who are learning that there’s more to being healthy than just working out … and that nutrition is also a big part of the picture,” Deckard said.

Deckard, who calls herself a “very driven person,” had a lot going in 2020, yet she was quick to step up and do more when Tarrant County Public Health sent a request for students to assist as COVID contact tracers during the spring and summer months of rising case counts and hospitalizations. Her job was to call local residents diagnosed with COVID-19, to gather information on their close contacts and recent activities and provide them with resources and support.

During 2020-21, she also worked with SPH faculty on research and advocacy projects specific to women’s and children’s health.

Rather than slowing her down, the pandemic showed Deckard just how much public health is needed and gave her critical avenues for helping people in new ways.

“Much of this past year has been about redirecting and moving face-to-face interactions virtually,” she said. “We’ve all had our challenges, but the support I received from my family and through HSC helped make it all possible. One of the best decisions I ever made was to come to the HSC School of Public Health.”

Deckard’s future career plans are in the areas of nutrition, women’s health, health policy, research and continued community involvement.

“Nutrition is what brought me here and connects across everything I do,” she said.

“Food represents love, health and so much more. It brings people together. It’s essential. It has the ability to strengthen and heal our bodies physically, emotionally and spiritually, and food is a cornerstone to keeping communities healthy.”

Posted Date: May 5, 2021

By Sally Crocker




This spring, 56 new School of Public Health graduates will celebrate Commencement.

Three graduates are receiving special recognition, and a number of students are being named into honor societies for the fields of public health and health care management and policy.

This year’s Leon Brachman Community Service Award honoree is Joanna Li. The Brachman award recognizes the graduating public health student who best exemplifies the ideals of academic excellence, leadership and community service.   This award is named for Leon Brachman, a member of the 1992 Steering Committee that explored development of the SPH. He was instrumental in the school’s 1999 founding and was a recognized leader and philanthropist in the Fort Worth community. Brachman’s namesake award is presented annually to a public health student in the MPH or MHA program demonstrating exemplary academic achievement in his or her graduate course of study.

Sydney Manning is receiving this year’s Kenneth Cooper Award.The Kenneth H. Cooper Award for Outstanding Research is presented each year to a public health student who demonstrates excellence and quality in the application of research methods in preparation of a final product for the thesis or other research activities. Best-selling author and health/wellness guru Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, who started the famous Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas in 1970, is the inspiration behind this award.

Amber Deckard is being recognized as this year’s Dean’s Award for Academic Achievement The Dean’s Award for Scholarly Excellence in Academic Achievement is presented to the student who distinctly represents scholarly excellence with an emphasis on academic achievement.

The SPH is also inducting seven students into the Delta Omega Public Health Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Chapter, and seven students into HSC’s Upsilon Phi Delta Honor Society chapter, in recognition, reward and encouragement of their academic excellence in the study of health care management and policy.

Membership in Delta Omega reflects the dedication of an individual to quality in the field of public health and to protection and advancement of the health of all people. Election to the society is based on outstanding performance – scholarship in students, teaching and research in faculty members, and community service in alumni. Election to membership in Delta Omega is intended not only to recognize merit, but also to encourage further excellence in, and devotion to, public health work.

Upsilon Phi Delta represents the national academic honor society for students in health care administration across the United States. The organization was formed in 1965 to further the profession of health administration and the professional competence and dedication of its members.

Congratulations are offered to the following new Delta Omega members: Allison Christian, Amber Deckard, Palak Desai, Joanna Li, Edward Monroy, Alice Phillips and Angela Taylor.

Congratulations are also extended to this year’s new honorees named into Upsilon Phi Delta: Hina Ajaz, Kartika Ayyappan, Lydia Ford, Lydia (Brett) Ironside, Aminata Ka, Parvathy Nair Prasannan and Erin Sam.

Each year at commencement, the HSC Public Health Student Government Association (PHSGA) selects winners for the Annual PHSGA Awards, to recognize and thank special SPH faculty and staff for going above and beyond in their support.

The 2020-2021 SPH Faculty and Staff Awards presented by PHSGA, along with this year’s nominees, include:

SPH COVID-19 Response Trail Blazer Award: Dr. Diana Cervantes.
Outstanding SPH Educator Award: Dr. Stacey Griner.
Additional nominees for this award were Dr. Won Seok Choi, Dr. Stephan Davis, Dr. Kayla Fair and Dr. Menghua Tao.
Outstanding SPH Researcher Award: Dr. Erika Thompson.
Dr. Erica Spears and Dr. Emily Spence were also nominees for this honor.
Outstanding SPH Staff Member Award: Chelsea Lancaster, SPH Academic Services.
Public Health Leader of the Year Award: Dr. Dana Litt.

The SPH extends congratulations to all and the very best wishes to our new graduates!

Posted Date: April 28, 2021

By Sally Crocker



Ambiguity and adaptation may be the way of life for 2021 as COVID restrictions roll back across communities, says Scott Walters, PhD, Regents Professor at the HSC School of Public Health.

“Clearly, the comeback will be phased in waves,” Dr. Walters said. “It won’t be as easy as flipping on a switch, and that could make the return to work and other activities confusing for a while.”

“When stay-at-home guidance went into effect last year, everyone did the same thing at once, but now as businesses and organizations are reopening, we’re seeing differences in timing and expectations. People are doing very different things.”

A gray area involves masks. Some communities have lowered their mask requirements, while others are keeping them in place. Personal decision-making is playing a large role in places where they aren’t required, as people weigh their risks and degrees of comfort in different settings. While more vaccines are reaching the public than ever before, the U.S. has not yet achieved herd immunity, so health concerns still remain, especially regarding the new COVID variants discovered in recent months.

“Since I’m vaccinated, I think my personal risk is pretty low, however, I’m sticking to CDC guidance for the well-being of others around me,” Dr. Walters explained.

For many people, he said, 2021 will be a year of “making case-by-case assessments,” based on the number of people you’ll be around, the distance apart, whether outdoors or indoors, and who may be at special risk. When you don’t know everyone’s vaccine status, he recommends trying to meet “two out of three” conditions: being outside, masking and distancing. That means if you’re outside and distanced, there’s probably no need to wear a mask. Likewise, if you can’t be outside, he recommends both masking and distancing. If cases decline further, we might move to a “one out of three” rule, Dr. Walters said.

Getting back to the everyday world could, indeed, provide welcome support for some of the behavioral and mental health problems COVID has brought forward.

Walters Headshot 2

Dr. Scott Walters

Substance use is up; mental health issues are heightened.

Drug overdose rates are about 20% higher in Texas now than they were pre-pandemic.

More people report feeling depressed.

People have gained weight. Drinking has also increased.

The reasons have been attributed to “languishing,” while others call it collective “grief.” People are having a hard time finding motivation to set goals.

“Going into the shutdown, I could see a real advantage to having more flexible time to focus on my health, but I’ve discovered that with my old set schedule, I actually eat better, stay more physically active, practice stress relief activities like yoga more often, and feel more mentally alert,” Dr. Walters said. “It’s disorienting when we are working, eating, sleeping and spending all our time in the same space.”

Questions, uncertainties remain

The return to work presents a mixed bag of emotions for many people. Some are looking forward to the long-awaited opportunity to get back, while others feel anxious. A recent Wall Street Journal article predicts that many employees will continue working remotely at least part-time, as bosses and companies rethink old practices in response to the new ways of doing business that have proven successful over this last year.

“A manager’s attitude about the pandemic can play a key role in how engaged or disengaged workers are in their jobs,” the article reported.

“What people seem to have missed most are the daily chats and informal conversations that being together can provide,” Dr. Walters said.

An early 2021 Microsoft trends report showed that the number of digital meetings among U.S. businesses more than doubled in January and February and lasted 10 minutes longer on average.

The report also showed that the average Microsoft Teams user is sending 45% more chats now per week and 42% more communications after hours. There has been a 66% increase in people working on documents, and the number of emails delivered to commercial and education customers in February 2021, as compared to February 2020, is up by 40.6 billion, Microsoft noted.

“For all the downsides of the pandemic, work productivity has actually improved. The challenge now will be to find that balance between logging in virtually and getting together for those meetings and water-cooler conversations that just don’t work as well on Zoom,” Dr. Walters said.

“People will still approach certain activities with caution. Travel, going to movies, dining in restaurants and attending big events may take longer to come back.”

It’s been a real challenge for new employees who may have worked through the pandemic without ever meeting their colleagues face-to-face. Singles and working adults caring for small children or elderly parents have been faced with other serious stresses.

Returning to life beyond COVID could also prove challenging for pets, as cats, dogs and other companions have grown accustomed to having their families with them full-time this last year.

“The changes now will involve some give-and-take on everyone’s part,” Dr. Walters said. “The more comfortable we can all become with a little ambiguity, and try to practice good judgement, the easier it will be to phase back.”

“I’m hopeful that our shared sense of vulnerability this last year will make our work more human and give us an opportunity to transform business and how we live together for the better.”

Academic Services
Posted Date: April 22, 2021
Adademic Services V2

Dr. Misty Smethers, Dr. Tessa Bryan, Siarra Azocar and Chelsea Lancaster

By Sally Crocker

One year ago, COVID-19 turned the world upside down.

Before the pandemic arrived, the HSC School of Public Health Academic Services department was in the usual zone, providing day-to-day resources and support to students, managing weekly “SPH Interlude” events with guest speakers and conversations around special topics, advising on internships and community service opportunities, partnering with alumni and others in the field to keep students alerted to job openings and career updates, planning course schedules, collaborating with faculty and leadership on school-related issues, and preparing for spring commencement.

Anytime is busy for this four-person department and the graduate assistants who provide support, but the changes and challenges of COVID-19 were so much more than anything the world could ever have predicted.

Along with Assistant Professor and department Director Misty Smethers, EdD, MAE, the SPH Academic Services team includes Assistant Directors Tessa Bryan, EdD, MBA, and Chelsea Lancaster, MLS, and Senior Administrative Associate Siarra Azocar.


Spring 2020 was a flurry of Zoom meetings and need-to-know communications. Classes went virtual. With so many variables that COVID could present, the department developed options for fall classes either back on campus, remote or in hybrid modules.

Pandemic shutdowns were daunting for everyone, especially students living on their own. Those at home with roommates, families, pets and the balancing of schedules and workspaces with others also felt the challenge. All were concerned about friends and relatives in other households, especially those far away.

Serving the community

“As we were transitioning, Tarrant County Public Health sent out a call for help. At least 60 volunteers were needed immediately for COVID contact tracing – and orientation was one week away,” Dr. Smethers said. “With help from Human Resources and others across campus, our students quickly moved through background checks, onboarding and team assignments to be there.”

Student internships at professional practice sites around North Texas were also impacted as local agencies closed, reopened and closed again in response to COVID case numbers. This called for ongoing communications and personal check-ins to be sure everyone was doing okay.

Students were also updated on the campus food pantry, funding resources, the HSC CARE team and other assistance.

The department was inventive in welcoming new students and keeping mid-semester spirits high in 2020, with surprise gift boxes mailed to their homes, containing HSC items, handwritten notes and other goodies.

“We wanted our connection with students to stay strong, even when we couldn’t all be face-to-face,” Dr. Smethers said.

It’s an understatement to say spring rolled into summer, then moved into fall and now the current semester, as the responsibilities of departments like SPH Academic Services are nonstop and involve detailed, daily coordination with others across campus and outside HSC to support Recruitment and Admissions, help new students get acclimated and feel welcomed, and support them through their graduate program.

“Striving for excellence in communication and organization was our focus throughout, to ensure students had the best experience despite 2020 uncertainties in our country. A commitment to students’ well-being is very important to our team and the work we do,” Azocar said.

Over the last year, SPH Academic Services organized more than 125 online Interlude programs – 5 to 8 per week – covering not just educational, career-related and public health topics, but also activities focused on self-care and stress relief.

“We were looking for unique opportunities to stay engaged with our students on a virtual platform, including those we had not yet been able to meet in person,” Lancaster explained. “Wellness sessions like virtual yoga, a virtual pet café and a movie watch party helped us all connect.”

Moving forward together

The most stressful months came last summer, with COVID cases high and the nation embroiled in uncertainty.

“June was a month of questions and anxiety,” Dr. Smethers remembered.Coronavirus cases were rising, and our students were concerned with the state of the country and in need of support.”

“They were worried about pandemic safety, being separated from their families and the desire to participate in peaceful protests and speak out for equality for our faculty, staff and students of color, while feeling fearful of hate speech and negative rhetoric as they also balanced the expectations of graduate school. This was the month of tears.”

Staying strong together through crucial conversations and events highlighting Juneteenth, Pride Week and DE&I initiatives went a long way in helping students and HSC colleagues talk openly about concerns and the path forward.

The department also maintained close connections with alumni, who were facing those same challenges in their lives.

Reflections are important for both looking back and moving ahead, and SPH provided a space for that as well as the 2020-year ended. Students shared their wins and perspectives from a very challenging time with Academic Services staff, the Dean, Associate Dean Dr. Tracey Barnett and cohorts at a virtual End of Year event leading into 2021.

The victories large and small from an unprecedented time in history continue to serve as testament to the strength and resiliency of HSC students and the staff and faculty who support them.

“Our office is committed to serving our students because we care about them. Whether it’s reassuring students or helping them find the resources they need, we are here to help. Their success is a victory for Academic Services,” Dr. Bryan said.

National Ph Week Logo
Posted Date: April 1, 2021
20201027 034716


By Sally Crocker

Most days, the work of public health goes on behind the scenes, like a trusted friend who is always there to protect and help communities stay healthy and well. It’s in times of crisis and greatest need that we really see how much we all rely on public health.

Over the last year, public health has made considerable strides to contain the spread of COVID-19, from the early days of 2020 when news of the pandemic first started building, up through today – and the job still continues.

National Ph Week LogoNational Public Health Week 2021 is being celebrated across the U.S. the week of April 5-11. This year’s theme is “Building Bridges to Better Health,” recognizing the profession’s journey over the last year as well as the road ahead.

“Making communities safe and healthy is public health’s top priority,” said the American Public Health Association (APHA), sponsor of this annual event. “COVID-19 has made that even more important. In the midst of the most challenging public health crisis of our lifetimes, it’s more important than ever to celebrate public health.”

Daily themes this year will focus on rebuilding, advancing racial equity, strengthening community, galvanizing climate justice, constructing COVID-19 resilience, uplifting mental health and wellness, and elevating the essential and health workforce.

Along those themes, the HSC School of Public (SPH) will celebrate the week with the following events, presented by the Public Health Student Government Association:

The Intersectionality of COVID-19 and Structural Inequity” webinar event on Monday, April 5, 6:30-7:30 pm. Panelists include Dr. Sylvia Trent-Adams, HSC Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer; Dr. Marc Fleming, HSC Pharmacotherapy Chair; and Tarrant County Public Health Division Manager for Immunization, Erin Beasley. The program will be moderated by Dr. Emily Spence, SPH Associate Dean for Community Engagement & Health Equity.

Advancing Racial Equity: A Public Health Policy Perspective” virtual event on Tuesday, April 6, 3-4 pm, featuring Professor Erin Dowell, JD.

Strengthening The UNTHSC Community” virtual event on Wednesday, April 7, 2-3 pm, featuring speaker Desiree Ramirez, HSC Chief Compliance & Integrity Officer, Institutional Compliance & Integrity. Moderating the event will be students Aminata Ka and Kayla Tate.

Galvanizing Climate Justice: A Social Justice Issue” guided Ted Talk + Discussion on Thursday, April 8, noon-1 pm.

Constructing COVID-19 Resilience: Moving Towards Equity” Ted Talk + Discussion on Friday, April 9, 3-4 pm.

Reset with a Peloton Yoga Session” Uplifting Mental Health and Wellness Zoom event, Saturday, April 10, 10 am.

“Elevating the Essential & Health Workforce: Highlighting our SPH Alumni” on SPH Instagram, Sunday, April 11.

Phone News
Posted Date: March 25, 2021

Phone NewsSPH professors Dana Litt, PhD, and Scott Walters, PhD, were recently invited to write about “Battling Misinformation Through Health Messaging” for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Science, Health, and Public Trust website.

A recent HSC School of Public Health story on “Myths and truths about false news” caught the attention of the NIH, leading to this invitation.

The NIH Science, Health, and Public Trust website section was created by a trans-NIH work group that aims to provide leadership to help improve the quality and usefulness of information about science and health research for the public. This initiative provides tools and perspectives to help health and science communicators – from public information officers to journalists and journalism students – put research results in better context for the public.

Read more here on the article developed by Dr. Litt and Dr. Walters – Battling Misinformation Through Health Messaging | National Institutes of Health (NIH).


2021 Ache
Posted Date: March 16, 2021

2021 AcheBy Sally Crocker

This year, HSC’s Master of Health Administration (MHA) faculty and the program’s new Executives in Residence, consisting of local and national experts in the field, are leading a record number of educational sessions at the virtual 2021 Congress on Healthcare Leadership presented by the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) March 22-25.

The Congress on Healthcare Leadership is an annual event that draws thousands of healthcare leaders and students from across the nation. HSC’s MHA program is extremely well represented this year, with several sessions being facilitated by both MHA faculty and the program’s Executives in Residence.

The Executives in Residence program was launched in 2020 to expose MHA students to authors, thought leaders and top executives in the field. Four of those executives are featured in this year’s Congress Sessions, and MHA Program Director and member of the ACHE Council of Regents, Dr. Stephan Davis, will also co-facilitate an educational session on LGBTQ+ inclusion with Executive in Residence Dr. Ken White. Dr. White is an ACHE Gold Medal Awardee for his work in healthcare leadership.

All graduating HSC MHA students, and many first-year students, are attending the virtual event.

HSC MHA Executives in Residence and faculty leading sessions include:

  • Yes, You Need a Coach” on March 22 – co-facilitated by Executive in Residence Dr. Michael Frisina, with an in-depth look at the benefits of a successful coaching relationship for rising executive professionals.

Diana Cervantes. Assistant Professor Biostatistics & Epidemiology
Posted Date: March 8, 2021

By Sally Crocker

Diana Cervantes. Assistant Professor Biostatistics & Epidemiology

Dr. Diana Cervantes

More people are getting their COVID-19 vaccinations as more doses are being shipped to communities across the U.S. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are already well underway, and a third option, from manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, has now received FDA emergency authorization and is making its way to vaccine hubs around the country.

Spend a few minutes with an HSC expert to get answers to some of the top vaccine questions people are asking this week. Here, HSC epidemiologist Diana Cervantes, DrPH, MPH, Assistant Professor with the HSC School of Health and Director of the MPH Epidemiology Program, weighs in.

Q: What’s safe after the first dose? Do I need a second vaccine?
A: Dr. Cervantes: “Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, plus a 10 to 14-day time period after your second vaccine, for the highest amount of protection. Once you get your first shot, you will be scheduled for your second one within 21-28 days, depending on which vaccine you received. The provider where you received your first dose will keep you updated and manage your appointment for the following dose. It’s highly recommended that you complete both doses for Moderna and Pfizer. The new Johnson & Johnson vaccine is administered as a single dose. While efficacy varies among the three vaccines, they are all considered extremely safe and important in helping us beat the coronavirus.”

Q: What should I know before my first vaccine?
A: Dr. Cervantes: “To maximize your protection, the CDC recommends that you not receive any other immunizations at least 14 days before or 14 days after your COVID vaccine, unless otherwise determined by your healthcare provider. It’s also best to hold off on taking pain relievers like Advil, Tylenol and others prior to your vaccine. Taking them afterward as needed is generally considered fine, but definitely discuss this with your healthcare provider.”

Q: Can I choose my vaccine?
A: Dr. Cervantes: “Not likely. The vaccine you receive will depend on availability, timing and location. They have all been shown to help protect you from the severe outcomes of getting infected with the virus, like hospitalization.”

Q: Does it matter if my doses are from two different manufacturers?
A: Dr. Cervantes: “It does matter. As studies to determine the efficacy of the vaccine did not interchange between manufacturers, we cannot really say how much protection the vaccine may offer if the doses differ by vaccine type (Moderna vs. Pfizer). The CDC also recommends that you receive your second COVID vaccination at the same place, with the same provider, where you received your first dose. You’ll be given a vaccination card at your first visit, indicating which type you’ve been given.”

Q: Are there side effects?
A: Dr. Cervantes: “As with any vaccine, there could be side effects. You might experience fever, chills, tiredness, headache or soreness on the arm where you received your shot, which are all normal signs that your body is building protection. Many people have reported no side effects or only a mild reaction so far. Others have reported a little more response with the second Moderna dose. Serious side effects, though, are extremely rare.

If you experience any symptoms such as cough or shortness of breath days after your appointment, this is likely not due to the vaccine, but you may have COVID-19 or another respiratory infection that started before you were vaccinated and aware. If you experience any type of respiratory symptom, be sure to contact your doctor. You cannot get COVID infection from the vaccine as it does not contain the virus, only instructions for your body to create a small part of the virus to stimulate your immune response.”

Q: Is there protection between doses?
A: Dr. Cervantes: “The first may give you some protection, but it’s the second dose that really enhances that protection.”

Q: Once I complete both shots, am I home free?
A: Dr. Cervantes: “In certain situations in which transmission of the virus is low, such as indoor visits with others who are fully vaccinated (at least 14 days after their last required dose), or when visiting limited family members who are generally healthy but are not vaccinated, masks and physical distancing may not be necessary. But, as with all other vaccines, the COVID vaccines do not offer 100% protection. We are still learning a lot about how well the vaccines protect you from being able to spread the virus to others if you get a very mild infection. So, at this point until we learn more, it’s definitely recommended to keep the mask and continue physical distancing in high risk settings or situations such as healthcare facilities or around those at high risk for severe illness or hospitalization. Wearing masks, avoiding crowded indoor spaces and staying 6 feet apart from people outside your immediate household are still considered important tools in helping us beat this pandemic. So don’t make major changes to your behavior yet, and continue to follow CDC and public health guidance.”

Q: Do I need a shot if I’ve already had COVID?
A: Dr. Cervantes: “Yes, as reinfection is definitely possible. If you’ve recently tested positive or been exposed to someone who has the virus, however, you should not go to a vaccine site until your isolation or quarantine period has passed, to avoid exposing others.”

Q: What if I have certain allergies?
Dr. Cervantes: “You will be asked about this and advised by your vaccine provider, so be sure to let them know … and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re concerned.”

Q: What happens after my vaccination?
Dr. Cervantes: “For the first 15-30 minutes afterward, you’ll be asked to wait in an area accessible to healthcare providers to ensure you’re safe and don’t experience a serious reaction. This is required by the CDC at all vaccination sites and helps protect you. You’ll be given guidance on any follow up needed and what to do if you experience any concerning symptoms once you get home.”

Q: How do I sign up?
A: Dr. Cervantes: “The Texas Department of State Health Services website provides details on vaccine allocations and a full list of providers across the state.”

Q: Anything else I should know?
A: Dr. Cervantes: “It’s been a long year, but the good news is that we are getting closer every day in the battle against COVID-19. The COVID vaccines are a safe and highly effective defense against the disease. If you have access to a vaccine and you’re eligible, you should definitely get it.”

Uab 1
Posted Date: March 1, 2021

By Sally Crocker

Uab 1

MHA students Brett Ironside, Kartika Ayyappan and Aminata Ka

Three diverse women from HSC’s Master of Health Administration (MHA) program are kicking off Women’s History Month 2021 with a bang, advancing for the first time in the program’s history to the semifinals category of a top North American student case competition.

Graduate scholar case competitions enable students to demonstrate their knowledge, problem-solving skills, business acumen and creativity by developing solutions to real-world health leadership challenges in real time.

HSC team members Kartika Ayyappan, Brett Ironside and Aminata Ka achieved this honor as participants in the recent University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Health Administration Case Competition for graduate students from CAHME-accredited (Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education) programs. The event is designed as a capstone experience for graduate students across the United States and Canada.

The program was held virtually this year, with 42 teams from various universities tasked with the challenge of reimagining and branding healthcare services for a pediatric hospital navigating its way in a new and different COVID-19 world.

Teams were charged with presenting their recommendations on strategy and marketing in a polished 20-minute segment to practicing healthcare executives who are recognized leaders in the field.

Presenting virtually was a new experience this year, successfully pulled off with assistance from the HSC University Studio and Rens Bais serving as videographer and audio engineer.

Safe social distancing was observed, with only one team member on screen at a time and on-screen exits/entrances carefully coordinated. Team members introduced and thanked each other as each one took the HSC “stage,” transitioning smoothly from person to person while following approved COVID-19 protocol.

“We wanted to keep everyone safe and set each other up for success,” Ka said.

Ultimately, HSC’s team would become one of 12 advancing to the semifinals. Judges commended the students on their presentation skills, poise and detailed knowledge of the case and their recommendations. The strong relationship between the team members was also noted by the judges.

“Because we know each other so well and trust each other, it makes presenting even under less-than-ideal circumstances so much easier,” Ayyappan said.

Ironside, who attended this case competition last year, served as this year’s HSC team leader.

“Having attended the UAB Case Competition as an observer last year, my experience this time around as a competitor was even more meaningful,” she said.

“With hard work and dedication, I’m proud that we were able to successfully deliver a presentation that was representative of our education and individual areas of interest.”

As one who “had the pleasure of being on the sidelines, watching as these three students prepared for multiple case competitions this academic year,” HSC MHA Program Director Dr. Stephan Davis said, “It has been amazing to see their growth, and I could not be more proud.”

Dr. Arthur Mora, HSC Chair of the Department of Health Behavior and Health Systems, also expressed appreciation for the team’s efforts during an especially challenging time in Texas.

“Despite the catastrophic impacts of a history-making winter storm in the days leading up to the competition, including a week of power outages and disruption of water services across many communities in our state, these young professionals showed such determination to compete and succeed at a highly competitive national event, representing HSC admirably,” he said.

All three students were also part of the HSC winning team in last October’s American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) North Texas Chapter Case Competition. Ironside and Ka also participated in the National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE) Case Competition in September. They credit their success in subsequent case competitions in part to the rigorous preparation they went through with external judges during the fall semester, including one of the MHA program’s Executives in Residence, Ajith Pai, PharmD, MBA, FACHE, who serves as President of Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Cleburne.

“I knew right from the start that these MHA students were going places. I’m not surprised at all that they were semifinalists in the UAB Case Competition – they are so talented and hard-working,” Dr. Pai said.

All three students are on schedule to graduate in May 2021 and have met the criteria for induction into Upsilon Phi Delta, the honor society for health administration.

Posted Date: February 24, 2021

By Sally Crocker


Dr. Matt Richardson at Denton County’s Texas Motor Speedway COVID vaccine site. (Denton Record-Chronicle/ Jeff Woo)

Denton County Public Health has grabbed national headlines lately as being one of the most successful COVID-19 vaccination hubs in the U.S.

Led by HSC graduate Matt Richardson, DrPH, MPH, FACHE, the department’s service area covers more than 900,000 North Texas residents, although people have come from other states, as far away as Pennsylvania, to get their vaccines.

Dr. Richardson completed both his doctoral and master’s degrees through the HSC School of Public Health in 2011 and 1999, respectively. He credits a good amount of Denton County Public Health’s success to COVID response planning that started in January 2020, coupled with community partnerships and enhanced by the department’s experience in preparing for widespread emergencies dating back two decades ago to September 11, 2001.

Since then, the department has advised Denton County through the national anthrax alerts of the early 2000s, the global SARS and H1N1 flu epidemic warnings, Ebola discovery and response in Dallas six years ago, West Nile and chikungunya mosquito virus monitoring each year, and other potential threats to the community’s health and safety.

“We started working closely after 9-11 with local school districts, universities, hospitals, emergency responders, state and national health agencies and other partners to prepare for potential emergencies that our region might face at any moment,” Dr. Richardson said. “We have two decades of experience in planning for mass vaccinations, mass dispensing of antibiotics, and getting medicines and treatment to the public in disaster situations.”

Response to the COVID-19 virus in the early months of 2020 was all about epidemiology, Dr. Richardson said. Public health departments were focused on tracking the disease and analyzing how it was spread, an important first learning step necessary for developing interventions to fight it.

“It’s always that way with a new disease discovery, with the tail wagging the response plan that will come,” he said.

Testing, mask and social distancing recommendations, quarantining positive cases, contact tracing, herd immunity estimations and analyzing, analyzing … all those steps have taken place as the country has raced toward COVID-19 solutions.

Vaccine breakthroughs were announced by the fall, and like other public health departments around the U.S., Denton County knew as the end of 2020 approached that any available vaccines would be scarce at first.

Dr. Richardson’s team – 150 on staff, with 100 who could be dedicated to COVID response – was ready to roll with the support of well-prepared community partners when the first batch of vaccines arrived in January.

30,000 doses followed in February.

By late February, with a week’s unexpected pause due to the Texas winter storm and resulting outages, Denton County had administered over 83,000 first doses of the vaccine and was beginning to schedule second dose appointments. Plans to connect thousands of others with their first doses were underway for March, pending updated vaccine availability.

Denton County purchased a sophisticated data management system on New Year’s Day that Dr. Richardson calls the “real linchpin” of their success. The system provides a secure QR code for anyone who registers that can only be used by that individual. It tracks lot numbers and different scheduling requirements among vaccine manufacturers, following and keeping people updated through their first, then their second doses.

Denton’s “VIP,” or Vaccine Interest Portal, sends automatic appointment notifications that allow people to reschedule if need be, or to take their name off the wait list if they’ve received a vaccine elsewhere.

“It’s like solving the Rubik’s Cube early,” Dr. Richardson said, “especially when you consider that changes and cancellation rates among public health departments can run as high as 30%.”

Other work has continued all these months at the public health department too, like TB control efforts, HIV/STD clinics, seasonal flu shots, routine children’s immunizations, environmental health operations, medical operations for the county jail, primary care and chronic disease management clinics for thousands in the local area, supplemental nutrition (WIC) programs for women and children, and more.

“A lot of plates are spinning all at once,” he said. “None of us in public health here or around the country could have prepared for such an extended emergency response.”

A lot has been learned over the last year, much has been accomplished, and along the way there have been many missed birthdays, family events, vacations and personal time off as the staff has remained dedicated and on track.

People have gotten sick, their families and friends have been impacted by COVID, there have been good days and bad, but regardless, Dr. Richardson said, “you just keep swimming.”

“People use the word unprecedented a lot, but we have never seen a vaccine so safe and effective as those being administered right now,” he said. “Our staff’s commitment and performance over this last year is true public health mission work, and I hope that when they finally put their heads on their pillows at night, they know how much they are making a difference.”