New City Health Director Looking to Some Things Old, Some Things Bold

Just-appointed Pasadena Director of Public Health Dr. Ying-Ying Goh sees new role for public health

Published : Tuesday, April 16, 2019 | 5:15 AM

Pasadena Director of Public Health Dr. Ying-Ying Goh

Pasadena’s newly minted Director of Public Health will mix a shoring up of core services with innovative strategies intended to catalyze the community toward solutions and address social issues that hinder wellness.

Dr. Ying-Ying Goh was appointed Director by City Manager Steve Mermell last Tuesday, April 9, following four years of serving the City as Pasadena’s health officer and deputy director for the department.

Goh is board certified pediatrician whose earlier City career entailed work on diabetes and childhood obesity prevention programs.

The department has approximately 90 staff serving both the City of Pasadena and beyond. There is also a body of student nurses, masters students, and a volunteer corps.

Goh said the department is trying to improve its core, or essential public health services such as meeting targets for restaurant inspections, pool inspections and environmental health services, and controlling communicable diseases.

“So one thing we really ask for is participation from our community,” Goh told Pasadena Now. “When they hear from us, they should understand that we’re trying to protect them and to please respond to us and be our partners in keeping everybody safe from diseases.”

Health promotion is another essential city service Pasadenans can expect her to be vigilant about.

These include information on the perils of vaping or using cannabis when driving — information that ensures young people are aware, “that it’s not safe to use cannabis when you’re pregnant and that it’s not safe to vape, because you are putting toxins in your lungs, even though it’s not tobacco smoke.”

Closer to the frontiers of innovation, Goh said the Health Department is looking to strengthen its role as “health strategy catalyst. And what that means is that we want to provide the backbone support for collective impact in our community to achieve specific health priorities,” said Goh.

Such would be part of an ongoing effort Goh will inherit from her predecessors, most recently Michael Johnson, “but we’re trying to refine and get better at defining exactly what that means.”

By way of example, she highlighted a new initiative called All Children Thrive which the department is conducting in partnership with early child care providers, other service providers, and libraries to look at how to ensure that more children, especially those at risk from zero-to-five, are kindergarten ready.

Goh is sensitive to the fact people might wonder if the Health Department isn’t reaching stepping out of its lane.

“What we have come to realize over the decades is that, in fact, the social determinants of health, these social issues are the things that, in addition to our central public health services, we have to work on,” explained Goh.

And the Health Department can’t work on them alone, she added.

“So we’re trying to establish this role of how do we catalyze our community,” said Goh, “catalyze all the resources we have with the information and data we have about our health status and work together to maximize our resources and really make a measurable impact on these health and social metrics.”

She provided the example of getting preschoolers ready for Kindergarten, using tools that measure their physical health, their social readiness, their language ability.

“Are they prepared to be able to learn their ABCs and do what they need to in Kindergarten” she explained. “And that determines your trajectory for success in third grade reading and then your high school education.”

The same approach would apply to childhood trauma, said Goh.

“We’ve really increased our awareness about the impact of trauma in childhood on our entire life,” she said. “We’re talking about adverse experiences with abuse or neglect, witnessing violence or being subject to violence or even things like financial instability, or parents getting divorced. Those are all things that, at an early age, affect your brain and health for the rest of your life.”

It’s all about a new role for public health. Such work is going on in other places, but Pasadena, she stated, is early as far as piloting this “collective impact work.”

The idea, from a health policy perspective, is to provide more protective factors already known to help families and prevent trauma, or to help improve outcomes post-trauma, such as support relationships with supportive adults.

“So that’s one of the issues that I think that is really important and where we’re positioned to make a difference in people’s lives,” Goh concluded.

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