By Alyssa Bostian
(Photo by Allan Visnick)
It is with great pride and excitement that we welcome Akiko Saito as the new Health Security, Preparedness and Response (HSPR) operations chief.
A little more than five years ago, Akiko Saito joined the HSPR staff as the State Medical Reserve Corps coordinator and ESAR-VHP project officer. Since her start with Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and HSPR, Akiko’s demonstrated success has propelled positive change within OHA, local health departments, tribes, and other local entities, making Oregon a more prepared and healthy state.
Akiko’s networking skills and “get-it-done” attitude have grown the Medical Reserve Corps program from nine units to 19 units in a five-year span. Akiko’s work also spurred exponential growth within the State Managed Volunteer Pool (SMVP), which now has more than 1,400 volunteers ready to deploy in case of an emergency in Oregon or Southwest Washington.
In December 2008 Akiko proposed developing a statewide VISTA program that would recruit VISTAs interested in public health and place them in local governments in order to sustain MRC programs. In August 2009, the first 10 OHA VISTA team members began their service year. Since then, the OHA/AmeriCorps*VISTA Partnership Project has grown and now places 30 members throughout the state. These team members work on many other public health projects in addition to MRC, including accreditation, tribal health, health equity, community wellness, resiliency for vulnerable populations, and special projects.
The significance of VISTA accomplishments goes far and above the service numbers previously mentioned. MRC units have moved to sustainable platforms using volunteer leaders to complete projects with minimal burden on staff. Local health departments are seeing a cultural shift toward continuous quality improvement that will benefit entire counties. The project also creates future public health leaders by training VISTA members in the complexities of governmental public health.
Akiko also has been an integral part of HSPR’s responses to events and exercises, including (to name a few) H1N1; the radiological event from the tsunami in Japan; 2011 winter flooding; and the PACE Setter Exercise in 2013.
We are thrilled to see what Akiko can do as our new operations chief and are grateful for her continued efforts to make Oregon a more resilient state.
Next: HSPR Staff Honored with OHA Directors Awards