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Saline County Health Department director’s support never wavers’ before and during pandemic

By Lisa Horn, Public Health Nurse Specialist, Local Public Health, KDHE

Supportive, encouraging and inclusive. These are just some of the words used to describe Jason Tiller, Saline County Health Department director, by those who work with him.

Tiller, who’s been at the helm of the department for the past six years, continues to steer the agency during the uncharted course COVID-19 has presented.

Even before the pandemic, he recognized that working in public health is not a one size fits all approach, said Sherri LaFollette, Saline County Health Department Maternal Child Health/Becoming a Mom Coordinator.

“You have to change, bend, compromise, collaborate, educate, listen and provide services to our communities the best we can to meet an array of individual needs,” she said. “He knows how difficult this can be at times, especially during a pandemic. However, his support never wavers, which is something staff know they can depend upon.”

He provides guidance and insight even if it varies from staff’s own viewpoints, LaFollette added.

And, “he provides encouragement and invites us to challenge ourselves as we strive to maneuver through all the unknowns we face today in our public health systems,” she said. “He promotes outside of the box thinking/brainstorming and motivates us to embrace all possibilities that may seem out of our reach.”

Phillip Smith-Hanes, Saline County administrator, agreed.

“Jason had some things he was planning to do when I first came on board, but by three months in, COVID-19 was consuming our lives,” said Smith-Hanes, who started in December

“Jason has done a great job leading and supporting his staff through the pandemic.”

“What I really admire about him, however, is the way he engages staff in lots of conversations about things we are doing in the county,”

Smith-Hanes said. “When I ask a question of departments, most of the time I’ll get a couple responses from department heads – and then I’ll start getting responses from health department staff, because Jason has engaged his entire department.”

A goal Tiller is striving to reach for both clients and staff is a new location for the health department.

The department’s current building is around 50 years old, Smith-Hanes said, with hallways in odd directions and three entrances. The parking situation is also a poor design, because the parking closest to the street that the building “faces” is actually owned by a business across the street.

“There wasn’t near enough space to add contact tracing staff…they ended up packed in conference rooms and break areas,” he said. “We really need to get the health department a space that is functional, not fancy, and I’m glad Jason is making this a priority.”

COVID-19 has been the biggest project that Tiller and Michelle Barkley, Saline County Emergency Management director, have worked on since she started in her position two years ago.

He has been a tremendous help supporting the noncongregate shelter, collaborating on resource requests and helping keep spirits up for all involved in the pandemic response, she said.

“He and his wife had a coffee bar and scone day,” Barkley said. “Jason dressed up like Santa last December and dropped off gifts to different departments and to command staff.”

He will often email an inspirational quote or something else to boost the spirits of Incident Command and health department staff, Barkley added.

Tiller also recognizes the strain of keeping up with the demands of what our staff has faced in the past one and a half years and what is ahead, LaFollette said.

“With this, he reminds us to take care of ourselves too,” she said. “We matter, we are needed and we are heard. He understands the importance of our roles to the community and he always reminds us this means obligations to ourselves and families have to be part of the process in order for us to be resilient through it all.”

Read the full September 2021 KDHE Public Health Connections Newsletter here.