County Manager Column from Oct. 13, 2020

Welcoming Kathy Hedin as Deputy County Manager of Health and Wellness

I’m very happy to welcome Kathy Hedin – our newly promoted Deputy County Manager of Health and Wellness – as the guest author of this week’s column. Kathy is well-known to many of us throughout our organization and to our community – whether as the very visible leader of our Public Health response to COVID-19 since March or her nearly two decades of service here at Ramsey County in various community-based roles in Public Health. As we congratulate Kathy on her new appointment and learn a bit more about her here, I also would like to extend my thanks to the other excellent candidates who applied for this critical position. The experience, passion, ideas and overall quality demonstrated by the other applicants – especially our top-notch internal candidates – has reinforced for me both the success we’ve had in becoming an employer of choice and developing tremendous leaders at all levels of our organization. Additionally, I’d like to recognize the excellent job Karen Saltis has done serving as interim Deputy County Manager these past few months as another testament to the strength of talent we have here at Ramsey County – our thanks to her! Kathy’s own story, you’ll see, underscores these same reflections as well and I’m very much looking forward to working with Kathy in this new role and welcoming her to the Executive Team! -Ryan     

Greetings! I appreciate the opportunity to share a bit about myself and my thoughts for developing a collective vision for the Health and Wellness Service Team ahead of moving into the Deputy County Manager position in early November. I have had the pleasure and honor of working with many employees, residents, businesses, youth and other partners in my nearly 20 years with Ramsey County. In 2001, newly out of college, I started my career here in the Environmental Health division of Public Health. As a technician, my job was to inspect swimming pools as well as businesses that generate hazardous waste in very small quantities to ensure the responsible disposal of hazardous waste. Next, I was promoted into a health educator position where I worked with schools and youth organizations on public health issues. Unfortunately, as I was beginning to really take up the role, the position was one victim of 2003 budget cuts and I was laid off.

I was happy to be re-hired back a number of months later into a health educator role within the Healthy Communities division of Public Health. Here, I worked to reduce community violence and promote adolescent health and healthy youth development. I enjoyed these many years engaging community directly, speaking to many different neighbors and audiences across the county, state and country and training thousands of people on our work with The Wakanheza Project. This was a nationally recognized violence prevention initiative that helped create systems change to address and reduce child abuse, bias and discrimination, as well as increasing organizations’ abilities to create more welcoming environments. In this position, I also focused on chronic disease prevention project management and eventually coordinated and led the department's work around health and racial equity.

In 2016, I became the Healthy Communities Division Manager where I managed programs and initiatives of the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP), chronic disease prevention work, Child and Teen Checkups, adolescent health/healthy youth development, mental health prevention and promotion, healthy aging, community engagement, Hmong community health promotion, health equity, violence prevention and SOS Sexual Violence Services.

In 2018, I was named interim Public Health Director and became the first Black person in the state of Minnesota to hold a Public Health Director role. I accepted the permanent position on March 6, 2020 - the same day that Minnesota’s first case of COVID-19 was identified in Ramsey County. During this time, I led the department through the most recent community health assessment, strategic plan, budget and performance measures and our COVID-19 pandemic response.

My approach to work has always involved working with leaders at all levels to identify strategies for healthier workplace environments. I strive for collaboration and value discussing difficult topics (e.g. racism, conflict) in order to build, sustain and promote healthy working relationships and environments that produce beneficial outcomes for diverse communities.

I try to model a collaborative and adaptive style and believe we all thrive as employees when we invest in and support people at all levels of work. I work hard to lead with courage and a healthy level of risk-taking. I strive for and push a transformative leadership style more so than transactional. It’s important to me that we are all invested in, meaning we all get the support we need to do our jobs well, develop professionally and meet the needs of our community. I look for ways to share power and authority with community and have a deep passion for multicultural inclusivity to create spaces for the highest level of integrity and staff participation. This allows for equity in the workplace where all people are valued and can thrive. Key to this approach is investing in people who have routinely been discriminated against. This reduces secondary trauma for staff and helps sustain a healthier, more productive workplace which ultimately benefits program and service delivery for all staff and Ramsey County residents. I am looking forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on the Health and Wellness Service Team to build trust and capacity following our county values.

As we move forward as a service team and county, we do have to look thoughtfully and probingly at this past year. We continue to endure this pandemic that has unearthed huge health and racial disparities within our community. We've felt the heavy weight of George Floyd's death and the hurt and harm that has come from and continues to come from these and other events. Members of our Ramsey County community and family are struggling, with lost jobs, reduced access to care, more isolation and increased trauma and the fear of getting COVID-19 or the lingering effects of COVID for those who have already been infected. Our county and our staff feel this. As a Black leader in this space, I feel it. We struggle alongside our community. Moving forward, it’s my vision to invest in healing, well-being, bringing people together, helping our service team lean into a one Ramsey County vision and mission and find ways to embed our values to allow repair, growth and partnership.

I thank all of those who have provided me support and congratulations throughout this process – with a special shout out to my friends and colleagues in Public Health. As I enjoyed sharing with our commissioners this morning, the Public Health approach has shaped me and taught me a great deal. I look forward to determining a path forward for Public Health leadership in the days ahead and am very much looking forward to making connections across the service team and county to move our work forward together.