Summit County public health director recognized for exemplary service
KEYSTONE — Six months ago, Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland didn’t expect anyone to know her name or what she does.
Before the novel coronavirus pandemic, Wineland’s job was primarily behind the scenes. She responded to health violations, helped keep a mumps outbreak under control and worked to create a more healthy lifestyle for everyone in Summit County. Now, she’s become Summit County’s leader in its response to a global health crisis — and has been recognized as having done a pretty good job at it.
In August, the Colorado Public Health Association and the Colorado Health Foundation recognized Wineland with the Exemplary Frontier Public Health Nurse Award. The award is given to one public health nurse each year for demonstrating exemplary service to a rural Colorado or frontier community.
While Wineland was the one recognized for her work in the county, she said the award should really be given to her whole team at the public health department.
“This award really truly belongs to our entire public health team,” she said. “I’m so fortunate to be working with such incredibly talented and passionate people who are so dedicated to protecting our community.”
Wineland has been with the department for about 20 years. Like most living through the pandemic, she never anticipated being faced with a challenge of this magnitude.
“It’s like waking up in your worst nightmare,” she said. “It’s the perfect storm. It’s one of those things where you’re really just functioning on adrenalin when it starts, and we’re not out of the woods yet.”
Since the pandemic began, Wineland has been working with the Board of County Commissioners to make decisions that impact nearly every aspect of life in Summit County. The importance of that job is not lost on her.
“You’re wrestling with guilt and trauma that come with making these decisions that are affecting people’s lives and livelihoods in such dramatic ways,” she said. “I think there’s also a sense of pride that we’ve had amazing support from our county, all of our industry partners, really the entire community in implementing the mitigation strategies that we’ve put forth.”
Wineland has made a number of decisions that have helped keep the county’s positivity percentage low. She required mask usage in public, established a contact tracing team and pushed out community education campaigns.
“This pandemic affects every single aspect of our lives, collectively,” said Nurse Manager Sara Lopez, who nominated Wineland for the award. “Our community has benefitted so much from (Wineland)’s leadership, her dedication, her commitment to not always doing the easy thing and following the research.”
For Wineland, one of the hardest parts of her job during the pandemic is being thrust into the public eye. She is now speaking to the public on an almost daily basis at board of health meetings, town halls, school board meetings and more to keep the community informed about the spread of the virus.
Along with public health directors across the country, Wineland has also had to face her fair share of criticism, concerns and questions from the public. In other places, some of those criticisms have turned into threats, pushing some public health directors to resign. Wineland said she hasn’t experienced that level of threats or anger directed at her.
“Public health officials are definitely feeling a lot of anxiety that the duty brings,” she said. “I think they’re shouldering a lot of that … It gives us a lot of pride in our health department that we have overall support for what we’re doing here.”
Wineland didn’t win the award solely for her response to the pandemic. In 2019, she worked to combat tobacco and nicotine usage in the county by raising the minimum age for buying those products to 21, implementing tobacco licensing policy and raising the tax on those products. Wineland and her team also worked to resolve an outbreak of the mumps among employees of Keystone Resort just months before the pandemic began.
“She has a history of developing from scratch different programs and different initiatives and implementing them within Summit County,” County Manager Scott Vargo said. “She just has a long history of not just taking programs that have existed but developing new programs and then reacting very professionally and very appropriately in what have proven to be incredibly difficult circumstances.”
While Wineland is proud of the award, her focus is on the coming weeks and months of coronavirus response.
“We really are at a time where we have to remain hyper-vigilant,” she said. “With school reopening, with ski season upon us, we need to make sure that we’re donning our masks and we continue to protect ourselves with physical distancing.”
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