Movers & Shakers

Member Spotlight

Valerie Ricker, Director of Maine’s Family Health Division

AMCHP staff interviewed Valerie Ricker, Director of Maine’s Family Health Division. The purpose of the interview was to get a sense of how the use of data has impacted Maine’s MCH programs and policies. The MCH Director noted that the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services hired its first formally trained epidemiologist about eight years ago, but things have improved over the years.  Today, Maine has five epidemiologists working between the Division of Chronic Disease and the Division of Family Health.  

How has the use of data impacted Maine’s programs and policies?
The presence of epidemiologists has made data more accessible and allowed Maine to create more targeted programs and policies.  For example, several years ago Maine used PRAMS data to pass tobacco legislation. The legislation led to increased Maine’s tobacco tax to one of the highest in the nation.  The money earned from the tax went to build a tobacco free Maine.  The data were obtained from the YRBS which had indicated Maine adolescents had very high smoking rates. The data led Maine program staff to examine data and directed the anti-tobacco campaign with a significant focus toward teenagers.  As a result of our successful campaign, Maine’s adolescent smoking rates decreased.  Consequently, declines were noted in adults.

What challenges have you faced while integrating data and epidemiology into your program work?
First, finding resources to hire staff with formal education in epidemiology proved problematic. A combination of factors contributed to this tenderness: Maine being a rural state, a lower pay scale, and a lack of people interested in living in Maine brought difficulty in recruiting qualified data staff. We maintained our commitment to hire epidemiologists who met national educational standards required for epidemiology.  It took 18 months to find and interview a viable candidate.

How can AMCHP help your state enhance epidemiology capacity to communicate your research and data to state legislators to improve MCH public health policies?
AMCHP can help in many ways: promote the integration of evaluation and epidemiology; for evaluation is a critical part of improving the quality, capacity and effectiveness of our department programs and policies. AMCHP could assist in identifying more resources, particularly for states that have been unable to build their epidemiology capacity, would help; and identifying tools to educate legislators to understand the quality of MCH data, e.g., congenital birth defects data fact sheets. And AMCHP providing samples of how other states have utilized data in their states would also help.