MASON CITY – Today marks Ron Osterholm’s last day at the Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health after over 30 years as the Health Director.
Osterholm began in 1988 as an Environmental Health Officer hired by the Cerro Gordo County Board of Health. At the time, there wasn’t a Health Department. There was a home nursing program, but that was the extent of the public health programming in Cerro Gordo County. Osterholm was hired to work on environmental issues in the county, and the Board asked him to build the county an environmental health program.
Since that time, Osterholm has built a Health Department for Cerro Gordo County that is now one of the five largest Health Departments in the state of Iowa, and was the second in the state to achieve public health accreditation, a prestigious honor. Under his leadership, the Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health has grown to an organization of 50 employees providing more than 50 relevant programs and services like home health care; infectious disease prevention, surveillance, and screening; disaster preparedness; private well testing and education; healthy homes; vector control; diabetes prevention; nutritional services; tobacco prevention; and much more. He has bestowed his values of using data, planning, providing services effectively, and evaluating data for decision making to Department employees.
“It’s been a true honor to work in public health for 30 years. I feel I am leaving Cerro Gordo County with a strong public health department, and I am confident it will continue to grow and achieve great things in the future. There is a great staff at the Health Department,” stated Osterholm. “Dr. Mark Johnson, Robert Ermer, and Fran Wolbrink gave me an opportunity of a lifetime! I thank them for that. Likewise, I feel good about giving others an opportunity to excel in public health. The Health Department staff have done well for themselves and the community.”
Over the course of Osterholm’s career, he has taken on controversial health issues, instituted policy change and development, and advocated for public health funding all to protect human health. Some of the most memorable issues that have arisen over his 30 year career have been private water supply (well) issues; confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) management policy development; the H1N1 influenza outbreak of 2010; and the floods of 1993, 1998, and 2008.
Osterholm has also been a member of many committees and boards over his career, including the National Bioterrorism Committee, Iowa Homeland Security Advisory Board, United Way of North Central Iowa, Mercy Foundation, Iowa Counties Public Health Association Legislative Committee, H.E.A.L.T.H. for Life Foundation, Cerro Gordo County Free Health Clinic Board, Cerro Gordo County Family Violence Response Team, Columbia University Center for Public Health Preparedness, Drills, and Exercise Exemplar Group, State Immunization Advisory Committee, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Medical Association First National Congress for Public Health Preparedness, Governor appointed committee member for the Iowa Homeland Security 1st Responder Advisory Committee, Red Cross of North Iowa, and many more.
Osterholm has also received many awards during his career including the Environmentalist of the Year Award from the Iowa Environmental Health Association, National Association of County and City Health Officials Recognition Award for outstanding contribution in local public health preparedness efforts, and the Iowa Public Health Association Henry Albert Memorial Award for outstanding service in public health in Iowa, just to name a few.
Osterholm’s impact on Cerro Gordo County can be felt through the actions of each staff member at the Health Department. The programs the Department provides to Cerro Gordo County residents are responsive, progressive, and scientifically sound due to his leadership.
“Ron has an innate ability to assess current health or environmental issues, connect the dots, and then identify strategies to address them. His ability to do this has certainly been a driving force behind building such a successful health department over the past 30 years”, says Karen Crimmings, Chronic Disease Prevention & Health Promotion Service Manager at the Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health. “Ron has always been a fearless leader who has never shied away from addressing difficult or controversial issues”.
The one thing Osterholm says he will miss most about working in public health is all of the great people working to make the health of the public better. He says public health workers are a special breed. They value more than just the physical health of the person, but all of the factors that influence the health of the population at large. They are out to discover how to positively impact the public’s health through prevention vs. reaction. He will miss working with professionals with that passion for people the most.
Osterholm’s service is greatly appreciated by the people of Cerro Gordo County, and his impact on the improved health of our county will be felt for many years to come.