Retiring health department leader considered ‘one of the best’

Lisa Stefanovsky embraces challenge and change. Those are the twin rudders that have guided her for 33 years working for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, 16 of them as its director.

But, she quickly adds, it’s a team effort that’s enabled her department to accomplish some noteworthy aspirations.

“It’s not about me, it’s about their (the employees') commitment and their commitment to service our community,” says Stefanovsky, who plans to retire in March 2023. “That’s what’s always driven me.”

Lynne Doyle, executive director of Community Mental Health of Ottawa County, takes Stefanovsky’s assessment of herself a step further.

“I consider her one of the best managers and supervisors I’ve worked under,” says Doyle, who worked for seven years with Stefanovsky as Ottawa public health’s community health supervisor. “She was very positive and was interested in making sure her employees were successful. She’s got a great sense of humor and is very dedicated to the community.”

Challenges that shook society

9/11, the COVID-19 pandemic and social media are a handful of the notable episodes that have crossed Stefanovsky’s professional path, all of which demanded solutions.

The 2001 terrorist attacks shook Americans to the core. They also wrought in their aftermath a new level of emergency response training. 
Lynne Doyle, executive director of Community Mental Health of Ottawa County
“9/11 changed the face of emergency response in a good way,” Stefanovsky says. “In 2006, we developed training and development in emergency response, winning several awards for our emergency response. None of that is really about me. It’s because of the staff we’ve invested in and our culture.”

A more recent call to action unfolded when the Ottawa County Health Department tracked the latest science unfolding due to the then-new COVID-19 virus that was claiming lives.

“I don’t know anyone who could have prepared for something this big,” Stefanovsky says. “Every day something big came up and we needed to address it. The CDC would change things every day, and it made it hard for us because it was a new virus. If I could change anything, it would be we would have had a recipe for this. That’s what science and public health care, even engineering, is: We always want to learn and grow.”

Accreditation achievement

Doyle echoes the priorities Stefanovsky placed in empowering staff to gain a broader perspective on what public health can achieve for Ottawa County’s roughly 300,000 residents. One important benchmark Stefanovsky achieved was receiving accreditation for the Ottawa public health department from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“It sets the standard for excellence within the organization and doing the best work you can do, so it’s a benchmark, a quality service that a provider should be meeting,” says Doyle.

Stefanovsky says her department was in the vanguard in getting on board with using social media to connect with the public more readily.

“I wanted to be more community-oriented with our communications,” recalls Stefanovsky. “At times, we were really afraid of it, but I concluded this is what everybody is going to be doing and we need to get on board and actually meet people where they are.”

Driven by challenges

Public health departments cover an array of physical and mental health services, including but are not limited to, tuberculosis testing and treatment, family planning services, mobile dental clinics, communicable diseases treatment, the testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, food sanitation, recycling and proper disposal of household materials to prevent health and environmental risks, granting or denying septic and well permits, and child-mother support services. 

It’s an important and in some cases daunting responsibility, but it’s a role Stefanovsky will miss when she retires because it nourishes her unending inquisitive nature.

“I’m a super-curious person,” she says. “I like to get to know people and ask lots of questions. I don’t assume I have the answers to things. I’ve learned from good leaders and not-so-good leaders. I like to think I’m a good listener. 

“If I had a driving force in my life I would say it’s my faith. It keeps me grounded, it keeps me humble, it keeps me real. I know there’s something bigger than me. I have to trust that. 

“I have to treat people and respect them and their dignity and their opinions and perspectives and their background because we all come to the table with different life experiences and different thoughts.”
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Read more articles by Paul R. Kopenkoskey.