Walking into the Public Health offices these days can make you feel like there’s something almost magical going on. How can this many people be smiling in one place?
The answer might be Andrew Woodruff, 38, and his way of looking at the world and his passion for public health.
After a very successful first ever opioid conference, which saw conference-goers flood into downtown Quincy for three days, the department and its “new” director (he’s been acting director since July 2017 and became the director in June 2018) are exhibiting both moxie and enthusiasm for their programming and innovation.
Prior to his current position, Woodruff spent 12 years working in public health-related jobs in San Francisco. Like many, he found saving for a house in the Bay Area an insurmountable challenge. On a trip he found a piece of land in Sattley, bought it and spent weekends making the five-plus hour trek to clean up the property and saved up to build on it.
He found work in Reno in public health and it made the commute to the property a little easier. But it wasn’t quite a fit yet for the man whose degree from University of California Santa Cruz was a double major in microbiology and women’s studies — the latter providing a lens that shapes how he thinks about systems and health.
He wrote letters of introduction to public health departments in counties near to his Sattley property. Former Public Health Department Director Mimi Hall received one of those, talked to him and said she’d keep him in mind if anything opened up.
Things opened up.
He’s still working on getting that Sattley property livable and is almost there. Until then he lives in Quincy. He loves it up here.
Plumas County is often knocked for its lack of ethnic diversity, but Woodruff, a native of Santa Cruz, sees a different kind of diversity here.
“There’s a different type of diversity here that I didn’t grow up with that is new to me. Plumas County has more seniors, a veteran population and people of faith,” said Woodruff. He loves how neighbors and family help each other out no matter where they fall on the political spectrum. He loves it when assumptions he’s made about people or a place are proved wrong.
Woodruff was raised by a single mom — a nurse — and born into a family of aunts who were also nurses. That set him on his path to looking at public health through that experience.
His main priority is getting the people living in the county the services and resources they need for their well-being. Opioid addiction is at the forefront. “Hardly a person in the county is untouched by the epidemic. Everyone knows someone or has a family member affected,” said Woodruff.
He wants to see access to services throughout the county and recognizes the difficulties seniors and those without transportation have in getting to both mental and physical health appointments, counseling for drug and alcohol addiction and other services.
One thing he looks forward to more is collaboration. In some ways all the recent changes in administration leadership in services in the county means an opportunity for more effective collaboration. Agencies can see where they are duplicating services and where they can support each other’s programs, with the goal of serving the people of the county better. “[Social services, behavioral health, public health] we often serve the same clients and overlap. This is all much easier if we work together and I see that happening now,” said Woodruff.
While the opioid crisis is certainly taking a priority, Woodruff sees other public health issues that need to be addressed and what’s working in the county needing to remain in place. He champions the place-based services in all the communities for example. But there are services the county’s population, especially the aging population, needs that are not readily available. People go off the mountain for dialysis, for example, and that trip to do that often takes a toll on those seeking treatment. Women’s healthcare is not adequately addressed either — yet.
One telling philosophy of Woodruff’s is the one you can see as you walk in. He believes in being supportive of his staff. “The strength in an organization with multiple directors of various programs relies on understanding and communication,” said Woodruff. “It’s a privilege to work with a dedicated and talented staff.”
He recognizes the need for Plumas County to grow its own nursing staff and public health staff from the community. “Clearly people who have lived here have connections to people. People come in here because they feel safe and they know someone here,” said Woodruff. Whether it’s for family planning, drug treatment, lack of insurance or income, there is someone on staff who has gone through the experiences of the clients coming in.
His ultimate goal? “I want to live in a town with happy people who have access to what they need,” said Woodruff.