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Authors

  1. Osterlund, Hob MS, RN, CHTP

Article Content

As the director of the Pacific County Public Health and Human Services Department in Washington State, Kathy Spoor was alarmed when she learned about a mysterious problem plaguing the nearby Shoalwater Bay Tribe. There had been a shocking increase in miscarriages and stillbirths. In the worst year, 1998, eight of nine pregnancies ended in fetal death, a statistic devastating in a tribe with a little more than 200 members.

 

She got the state's health department involved. She got the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention involved. She got studies started. "There was not just one smoking gun," she explains. "There were environmental contaminants, stress issues, and genetics to consider." Pesticide use at nearby cranberry bogs needed to be evaluated.

  
FIGURE. Kathy Spoor ... - Click to enlarge in new windowFIGURE. Kathy Spoor weighs an infant at the Pacific County Public Health and Human Services Department in Washington State. "Hope is missing for so many kids," she says. "I want to do something about that."

Spoor says that the tribe's rate of miscarriages has declined dramatically. Funding has enabled bottled water to be delivered, and all pregnancies on the reservation are considered to be high risk so that the women have access to high quality health care.

 

A 1982 graduate of Washington State University School of Nursing, Spoor has been serving in her current position since 1990. She tried acute care nursing for a few years but found herself getting frustrated.

 

"Even though I felt like I made a difference with individuals," Spoor remembers. "I didn't have time to do much. My hands were tied there. It wasn't me." She moved into public health, where she has an opportunity to help in the prevention of serious health problems.

 

Now she oversees operation of more than 30 programs in one of the poorest counties in Washington, an area where 40% of the 25,000 residents are living significantly below the poverty level. Much of the county is classified as a Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Area.

 

Grant proposals she has written have netted funding from at least 15 sources, in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $750,000. She's helped to start a childhood learning center and is managing three WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) sites. She makes certain her department's services include HIV testing, family planning, and low-cost pharmaceuticals.

 

Spoor was given a 2005 Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) Community Health Leadership Program Award, a prestigious award that comes with a generous check for $120,000. She was one of 10 winners from among 700 candidates.

 

Catherine Dunham, EdD, program director for the RWJ program, says, "We look for people who have overcome obstacles. We want people who have gone above and beyond the call of their job, someone who makes gold out of seaweed. Kathy has boundless energy and skill. She's competent across cultural lines and jumps them cheerfully."

 

Spoor says she'll use the money from the RJW award to "do something around youth empowerment, about engaging parents in their children's lives. When I'm around kids, I see the lack of hope. It's missing for so many kids. I want to do something about that."