Jessica Gehle

40 Under 40 Class of 2019

Seattle, Washington

Environmental Health Division Director

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department
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I am excited to help discover new ways to increase the use of technology, diversify and sustain revenue sources, and challenge staff to work differently with their colleagues and customers. The opportunity to think creatively about unconventional public health partners and innovative solutions to longstanding issues invigorates me!

BOLD SOLUTION: Jessica worked with her team members to streamline cumbersome processes that added little value to the customer’s experience. They turned paper-based client testing data into an electronic database, which helped improve customer service and increase their ability to query performance measure data. Knowing traditional clinic hours don’t always meet the needs of the customers, she also adjusted clinic operation hours to offer services in the evening. This simple change made it easier for many of the highest-risk clients to access essential sexual health services.

Five Questions for Jessica

1. Who or what inspired you to enter the field of public health?

Two mentors inspired me to enter the field of public health – Drs. Maria Isabel (Isa) Fernández and Gary W. Harper. They opened my eyes to community-based public health work. I learned from them the ultimate public health responsibility–to ensure all people and communities have opportunities for health. Dr. Harper showed me the value of community voice. Dr. Fernández encouraged me, as a young woman entering the professional world, to be bold and courageous. I hold their teachings close.

2. What is one of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on in public health?

While working at the Washington State Department of Health, I collaborated with the University of Washington researchers to roll out expedited partner treatment for chlamydia and gonorrhea infections. As a disease investigation specialist, I relied on this tool to get exposed partners treated and disrupt the spread of infection. This experience highlighted an interesting intersection of academia and governmental public health.

3. What would success in public health look like to you?

Success to me is when all people and places are healthy and vibrant. If we all work better together, I believe we can get there!

4. What’s a story or experience that keeps you going, even when you’re feeling challenged?

In my organization, babies up to 6 months old can come to work with their parent. Often, these babies attend department meetings. Colleagues step in to help care for our youngest employees while their parent facilitates a meeting or provides a budget report. I rarely shy away from holding a baby, and this program allows me to do that while discussing public health strategy! At these moments, I’m reminded of why I care about public health— it elevates the health of future generations. Public health lifts up parents, families, and young people. We invest in healthy futures. That keeps me going.

5. As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A bank teller like my mother. Now she’s a Chief Operations Officer, and I still want to be like her!