Grace Franklin is San Miguel County’s new public health director, hired earlier this month after what county officials described as “an exhaustive search” for the new head of the department following the retirement of longtime director June Nepsky.
County manager Mike Bordogna said county officials are pleased to have Franklin, with her deep background in family planning and health education, on board.
“We are so excited to rebuild the positive relationships and reputation that our Public Health Department earned for decades in the community under Grace Franklin's leadership,” Bordogna said. “We understand that family planning and health education are important pieces of creating community-wide health systems and this was one of the reasons that we chose a candidate with extensive professional experience in these areas.”
Franklin came into the public health field when she was working at her local Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program in 2012, teaching clients the importance of good nutrition.
“I was looking for a way to serve my community and get a better sense of what a career as a registered dietician looked like,” she said. “While I was there, I saw the same disparities coming up for different individuals. WIC provided an important role in providing education and resources, but I was curious to the bigger picture and why food insecurity was happening in the first place. That’s how I stumbled upon the concept of public health, which is the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities.”
Seeing health care through the perspective of community-wide systems motivated her to further her education in the field.
“From this more population-based lens, I started to understand how social determinants of health, or the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age affect their health and access to health care,” Franklin said. “This led me to pursue a master’s in public health and work towards creating systems where everyone can thrive.”
It’s her focus on community needs that Bordogna said makes her a good fit for the position and the communities the county health department serves.
“Grace gets and appreciates what is so special about the Telluride region and San Miguel County, and her passions and values align with ours,” he said. “She is in the process of rebuilding and strengthening critical relationships within the west end and east end communities of San Miguel, and will be rebranding and promoting our services and programs. Her contagious enthusiasm can be felt when she talks about improving the physical and mental health of our community.”
Franklin’s previous work was with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, where she administered the state’s family planning program. That program provides access to contraceptives and other essential reproductive health care to people living with low-income, are uninsured or under-insured across the state. It was there she was first made aware of the county’s efforts in providing family planning services for the area’s clients.
“San Miguel County is one of the grantees of this program,” Franklin said. “I was always impressed by their dedication to the community and serving those in need.”
Before her work with the state, Franklin worked for the state’s School-Based Health Center program, and a reproductive health education nonprofit in northern Colorado.
In light of the global spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Franklin said that though “the risk to most people is low,” and that there have been no cases in the state, preparedness was essential for the department.
“Multiple responses to emerging pathogens in the last few years have prepared public health to respond to situations like this,” she said. “We have pandemic response plans ready to go, built tools and protocols to monitor travelers and other individuals who may be exposed, have the infection control expertise we need, and perhaps most important, we’ve built strong relationships within our county, and partners within health care and the state level.”
And, she said, commonsense measures like hand washing, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, avoiding those with cold or flu symptoms, and getting a flu shot should be undertaken.
The county health department offers an array of services, including food safety and environmental health. Those services, Franklin said, not only boost public health and safety, but contribute to a healthy economy.
“This department is complex in the sense that each service positively affects the other and work hand-in-hand to achieve the goal of a healthier community,” she said. “I think the current unsung hero of the health department is the environmental health side. For decades, we have successfully been providing regulation and training to make sure that food people provided to the public is safe for consumption.”
The department also offers vaccinations, pre-natal nutrition and family planning.
“Public health is providing family planning services, including birth control, STI testing and pregnancy testing at an affordable cost,” Franklin said. “This is helping people achieve their personal goals and maintain autonomy of their own bodies. This works in conjunction with the department’s WIC’s supplemental nutrition program and the VFC, Vaccines for Children program, to support people who are pregnant or raising children to have the best health outcomes.”
Franklin is originally from Southern California and moved to Colorado to avail herself of all the recreational opportunities the state has to offer, she said. Among her outdoor pursuits are downhill and cross-country skiing, hiking and backpacking and other adventures with her 9-year-old dog. As someone who is always looking for ways to give back to the community, she said she’s eager to find volunteer opportunities. In all, she’s thrilled to be here.
“The coolest thing about moving here is the sense of community,” she said. “Everyone has been very welcoming and seems willing to participate and work towards common goals to better our county.”
Asked what the single most important health tip she offers clients, she noted that being in the middle of cold and flu season, there are a few essential steps that can be taken to reduce one’s chances of getting ill, in addition to getting a flu vaccine.
“Stay home if you are sick, wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub, avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes, and cover your cough or sneeze,” she said.
For an appointment, call 970-728-4289.