By Brian Powell
A member of the Arizona State University community last month became the first confirmed case of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus in Arizona and one of the first in the United States as the outbreak expanded beyond central China.
The state agency at the forefront of this identification and response is the Arizona Department of Health Services, whose assistant director overseeing the division of public health preparedness is Flinn-Brown Fellow Jessica Rigler.
Rigler, who has worked at ADHS since 2008 and in her current role since 2018, is responsible for leading the state’s preparedness for a possible infectious disease outbreak and sharing critical information with the public.
“One of the most exciting aspects of my job is the ability to work with our public health team to respond to disease outbreaks,” Rigler says. “It’s incredibly fulfilling to have a role in protecting Arizonans from infectious diseases and to provide them with information they need to know to stay healthy.”
In this most recent instance, she’s shared information with the media about the local 2019 Novel Coronavirus case and how Arizonans can help prevent the spread of all respiratory viruses. She has previously led public health responses and public messaging pertaining to the Zika virus, opioid prevention, the 2014 Ebola outbreak, vaccines, the West Nile virus, and the recent Hepatitis A outbreak in Arizona.
As a state-agency executive, Rigler serves in one of the intended destinations for Flinn-Brown Fellows, who are competitively selected each year by the Flinn Foundation’s Arizona Center for Civic Leadership for its flagship Flinn-Brown Academy.
“My heart has been on the policy side and I’m really passionate about continuing to further our policy goals to improve the health of Arizona,” Rigler says. “I’m working to promote the fact that we need to incorporate health into all of our policies and I feel working at the state level is the best place to do that.”
As part of her role, Rigler provides public health information to the Arizona Legislature, helps inform ADHS’ policy direction, and champions public health issues such as improving vaccination coverage to counteract the impact of rising vaccine exemptions.
The division of public health preparedness that Rigler manages, with approximately 300 employees and an annual budget of more than $75 million, oversees public health emergency preparedness, epidemiology and disease control, state laboratory services for newborn screening and identification of infectious diseases and chemical contaminants, the certification of first responders and ambulance services, public health statistics, and the state’s immunization program.
“I know how I’m going to start the day, but I never know how it’s going to end,” Rigler says.
Rigler, an Arizona native, has a biochemistry degree from University of California, San Diego, and a master’s degree in public health from Emory University in Atlanta, and is certified in infection control and prevention. Rigler considered working as a lab scientist, but instead chose public health because she wanted to impact health while interacting with people.
Rigler said she was encouraged to apply for the Flinn-Brown Academy by Diana Gomez, the Yuma County director of public health.
Rigler said her selection has led to new connections with health experts as well as leaders of organizations that could result in future partnerships. She also learned how the state’s public health agency fits into the broader statewide policy landscape.
“It was a fantastic experience for me, and I was able to get a broader view of key topics that impact policy-making in the state and I better understood how we are competing against a number of different priorities,” Rigler says.
Service in an executive role at a state agency or university, like Rigler, is one of the five destinations for Flinn-Brown Fellows as they expand their civic leadership. The others are public service as a state-level elected official, policy advisor, state board or commission member, and statewide organization executive. More than 350 Fellows, from both urban and rural communities, are members of the Flinn-Brown Network.
The Arizona Center for Civic Leadership at the Flinn Foundation competitively selects about 25 Fellows for each Flinn-Brown cohort. The 2020 Flinn-Brown Academy, featuring 14 full-day seminars including the annual Flinn-Brown Convention, will begin in August.
The application for the 2020 Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy will open in early April.