Health worker honored with 2021 Excellence in Equity Award

Sandra Lake, who led Ottawa County’s response to COVID-19, is the 2021 recipient of the Excellence in Equity Award.

Lake, the Community Health Manager for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, was honored during the virtual Ottawa County Diversity Forum on Oct. 20.

In her role, Lake endured at times negative if not hostile feedback from community members. But she “is willing to have those difficult conversations,” says Lisa Stefanovsky, the county’s Health Officer, who nominated Lake for the award.

“We have to explore our hearts, our minds, and our souls if we’re going to change our world. We needed to do better, and Sandra took the brunt of that … and handled it with humility and grace. I challenge all of us to follow her leadership,” Stefanovsky says.

‘Voice of inclusion’

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Lake made sure vaccine clinics were staffed with people who spoke multiple languages and that signage was available in multiple languages to reach more members of the community. 

“She’s been the voice for inclusion,” says Stefanovsky. 

The award recognizes individuals who impact the public sector in Ottawa County and focus on the importance of equity through practices, programs, policies, and decision-making, the Ottawa County Department of Public Health explains on its website. 

Ottawa County’s motto is “Where You Belong.” Lake “strives to achieve an environment where everyone belongs,” Stefanovsky explains during the Diversity Forum.

‘Humbled and honored’

“I am so humbled and honored,” Lake says during a video of her accepting the award on Oct. 15. “This work is only possible because of our community and our team.” 

Born in Puerto Rico, Lake earned her degree in nursing and a Master of Public Health at Grand Valley State University. She started work with Ottawa County Public Health in 2012 as a nurse with the Maternal Infant Health Program.

She was promoted to Community Health Manager, where she oversees the infant health program as well as Ottawa Pathways to Better Health, Children’s Special Health Care Services, and Hearing and Vision Services. Lake also created and chairs the department’s Health Equity Committee, which provides education and resources to public health employees to support them in their equity journeys.

“We still have a long way to go,” Lake says. “But I am just honored to do the work.”