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Dec 13

The Public Health Advisory Council: A Way to Engage, Learn and Influence

Posted on December 13, 2019 at 1:53 PM by Kari Bray

One voice can’t tell the whole story.

When it comes to understanding public health priorities for our communities, we need a choir.

The Public Health Advisory Council is one place where the Snohomish Health District gathers those voices. There are 25 seats, representing a variety of backgrounds
And don’t worry – no one actually has to sing.

The advisory council meets every other month. The group is tasked with coming together to consider public health issues and provide advice or make recommendations to Health District leadership and the Board of Health.

Fifteen of the seats are currently occupied. There are vacancies for: environmental advocacy, higher education, human services organizations, labor, parks and recreation, senior services, transportation, Tribes, under-represented communities, and a youth representative.

Members say it’s an interesting time to be part of the Public Health Advisory Council, often referred to as the PHAC. The group, established in 2009, is working to better define its role and make a larger impact.

The current focus is more on education than action, said Jim Welsh, who has represented early childhood development on the PHAC since June 2016. He hopes to see that shift. The council provides a unique place to build relationships and accomplish goals. 

Jim-Welsh“True community health comes from people taking care of and watching out for each other,” Welsh said. “Public health is important. (The PHAC) is a way to engage and learn and maybe even influence.”

Welsh took over as CEO of ChildStrive, an Everett-based nonprofit, a little over three years ago. He said public health is closely linked to the wellbeing of children. Discussions on the PHAC have included early brain development and the health effects of childhood trauma. That’s Welsh’s wheelhouse.

“One of the best ways to work with a teenager is when they’re one year old,” he said.

Public health spans all generations, though. One of the pressing concerns that PHAC member Jeff Clarke sees is the quality of life for the older population.

jeff clarke“One of the great successes of the 20th century was lengthening the lifespan in the developed world,” he said. “I think one of the biggest challenges of this century is how do you make those last 20 years livable?”

Clarke is general manager of the Alderwood Water & Wastewater District. He’s represented water utilities on the PHAC for a little more than a year. 

Unlike most PHAC members, Clarke joined with an insider’s perspective. He previously served as deputy director for the Health District from 2010 to 2012.

“I think regardless of whether it’s a public health agency or Boeing or a bank, when you’re there in the building every day, you get a certain perspective,” he said. “Having external voices is very valuable. When you’re working in public health, you really need that community input.”

Lisa George Lisa George first learned about the Snohomish Health District when a colleague of hers, who was on the PHAC, did a presentation about the Community Health Assessment and Improvement Plan process that was underway at the time. Since joining the PHAC in 2017, one of George’s favorite things has been watching the collaboration on the most recent Community Health Assessment, released Dec. 12.

George is the director of medical staff services and regulatory affairs for Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. She represents hospitals on the PHAC. 

There’s a learning curve, she said, but if someone were considering joining, she would recommend it. The group has become an important venue for discussion before topics go to the Board of Health.

Learning about health needs and disparities among different groups has been eye-opening.

“I think the biggest challenge is realizing there are only so many resources available,” she said.

People expect things like safe food, clean water, and swift responses to disease outbreaks. They don’t always see the work that goes into making those expectations a reality.

“We are all industry voices and advocates,” George said of the PHAC. “I think the Health District does a great job of advocating for the community. We need to be advocates for the Health District.”

The Public Health Advisory Council meets from 7:45 to 9:15 a.m. on the fourth Wednesday of every other month on the third floor of the Rucker Building, 3020 Rucker Ave. in Everett. The room is 309A/B. Meetings are open to the public.

More information is available online at If you are interested in learning more or getting involved, contact Nicole Thomsen at