Teresa Long, Columbus Health Department
In early February, Dr. Teresa Long returned to the Columbus Health Department's historic headquarters on the Near East Side. The purpose of the visit—her first since retiring at the end of 2017—was a photo shoot, but it quickly turned into a family reunion of sorts. Like clockwork, office staff, volunteers, custodians and others would turn a corner, spot their former boss, light up with a smile and then hustle over for a hug or to catch up. And Long was just as happy to see them, greeting folks by name and connecting with them on a personal level, like a best friend you hadn't seen since the last holiday get-together.
That warmth was a big part of Long's successful 15-year tenure as the city's “top doc,” as former Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman used to call her. The first female Columbus health commissioner oversaw 40 programs, 500 employees and a budget of more than $50 million. In that role—and in her 16 previous years as the agency's medical director and assistant health commissioner—she pulled together wide-ranging coalitions to address public health threats as diverse as the H1N1 flu virus, infant mortality, childhood immunizations and the AIDS epidemic.
“One of the reasons Dr. Long was so effective is that she is always approachable … and I think her accessibility reflects her passion for public health at the level of the individual,” says Dr. William Martin, dean of the Ohio State University College of Public Health, where Dr. Long also serves as an adjunct associate professor.
Once, however, her personality wasn't considered a strength. Growing up in San Francisco, she fell in love with the ocean and set out to become a marine biologist. But she abandoned that plan in college, even though she was at the top of her class, when a professor told her she “smiled too much” to be taken seriously as a scientist. She switched to medicine, with a focus on pediatrics, but wondered if she could have a greater impact if she reached her patients sooner. She told the leader of her pediatrics program she wanted to switch to the new field of “preventive medicine.” His response? He demanded she get a psychiatric evaluation. “He literally thought I was crazy—I mean, truly crazy,” Long says.
Undeterred, Long completed a preventive medicine residency with the California Department of Health Services and soon found herself on the front lines of the emerging AIDS epidemic while working for the San Francisco Department of Public Health in the early 1980s. That experience was transformative, she says, teaching her the importance of listening and forming relationships “to get to the bottom of what was going on and then figure out how we can do better.”
She continued that approach after she was recruited to Columbus in 1986. To succeed as the city's top doctor, “you've got to be the city's best listener,” Martin says. “You can understand the science, you can understand what the health problems are and the public health problems, but it's listening to communities that really gives you the information you need to solve problems. And I think Teresa is a wonderful listener.”
In Columbus, Long continued to address the AIDS crisis. Other major accomplishments included the first office of minority health in Ohio, a series of farmers' markets providing fresh fruits and vegetables to underserved populations, the Project Love coalition that increased childhood immunization rates from 40 percent to 80 percent and the Infant Mortality Task Force that led to a community-wide plan addressing the issue. Jose Rodriguez, the manager of the Project Love initiative, credits its success to Long's ability to bring together critical stakeholders, including competitive central Ohio hospital executives. “That's a unique gift,” says Rodriquez, who's now the director of external relations and strategic initiatives for the OSU College of Public Health.
In retirement, Long, an Upper Arlington resident, expects to travel more and spend more time in her summer cottage in northern Ontario. She remains interested in pressing public health issues, such as food insecurity and the opioid crisis, which she and others liken to the AIDS epidemic. Just as with AIDS, public health leaders need to remove the stigma associated with victims, as well as do a better job understanding the complexity and context around the issue. “There's so much we don't know yet around the science and about the care and about how we meaningfully help people along this journey,” Long says.
Martin is discussing with Long deepening her role at Ohio State. “Even though she's retired, we don't want her to be retired from public health in general,” he says. “We want her to be part of the public health community solong as she's in Ohio.”
Peter Pema, Radiologist, Riverside Radiology & Interventional Associates
Dr. Peter Pema is a pioneer in the field of neurointerventional radiology. Using X-ray guidance to insert devices or drugs into blood vessels, Pema and his colleagues at Riverside Radiology & Interventional Associates give patients a better chance of surviving strokes, a leading cause of death.
Pema also serves as the chair of the Department of Radiology at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital, where he's been an important figure in turning the OhioHealth Neuroscience Center into a nationally known stroke referral center. A neurointerventional radiologist, Pema performs a variety of surgeries to treat several neurological conditions such as strokes, aneurysms and vascular malformations, using X-rays to guide micro catheters through blood vessels leading into the brain.
Pema's innovations and leadership in stroke care have attracted additional healthcare providers to central Ohio while advancing treatment for patients.
Jon F. Wills, Ohio Osteopathic Association
In February, Jon F. Wills retired from the Ohio Osteopathic Foundation after leading the organization for more than four decades.
Formerly the longest-serving state executive director in the osteopathic profession, Wills was a strong advocate for the field that emphasizes a “whole-person” approach to treatment and care. He represented the profession before state agencies and in the Ohio General Assembly, while also chairing such initiatives as the Ohio Tobacco Control Resource Group, the State Planning Committee for Health Education in Ohio and the Ohio Rheumatic Diseases Coalition at the Ohio Department of Health.
Wills has emphasized collaboration throughout his career. Over the decades, he's worked to develop legislation and strategies to address health challenges ranging from the AIDS epidemic to post-9/11 emergency response efforts to prescription drug abuse. Wills is also a clinical assistant professor with the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, where he was instrumental in getting fourth-year medical students more involved in health policy formation and advocacy efforts on behalf of patients.