DURING Dr. David Fleming’s seven-year tenure as the region’s public-health director, he showed an uncanny ability to communicate tedious data in ways people could understand.
Under Fleming’s watch, Public Health – Seattle & King County exposed and addressed health inequities throughout King County. His data visualizations showed where people are most likely to suffer and die from chronic diseases such as obesity and tobacco use, and pointed out major disparities in life-expectancy rates by ZIP code.
To address this, he forged strategic partnerships in the community, including Global to Local, a cross-sector initiative working to improve the health of underserved immigrants in SeaTac and Tukwila.
As he prepares to step down from the post on Monday, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray should seek a successor who mirrors Fleming’s considerable abilities to shape policy and think creatively about partnerships and tapping into Seattle’s public-health brain trust.
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There is much work to be done.
The department faces an estimated $15 million budget hole this fall caused by federal budget constraints. The next director will have to balance fewer resources with the demands of a fast-growing, diverse population.
Fleming’s successor should pick up where he left off by advocating for policies and funding in areas where data show the highest need and investment can have the highest impact:
• Reduce disparities in life expectancy: Broaden the public health debate to include transportation options, access to parks and nutritious food, gun violence and environmental factors.
• The Affordable Care Act reduced the rate of uninsured residents, but there are early indications that many patients have trouble getting primary care. Public Health must monitor that problem and be an honest voice for needed reforms.
• The rate of kindergartners in Washington state whose parents demanded exemptions from mandatory vaccines is embarrassingly high — seventh in the nation.
• Create a public online database of hotel pool-inspection reports following a 2013 drowning at a hotel pool with a record of safety violations.
Dr. Howard Frumkin, dean of the University of Washington School of Public Health, says of Fleming’s term: “The health department leadership is a bully pulpit, but you have to be willing to be that bully, and he has been.”
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).