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Podcast: Public Health & COVID-19 Response with Sarah Martin, mySidewalk

Posted on March 20, 2020


Sarah Martin GovLove

Sarah Martin mySidewalk

Sarah Martin
Vice President of Health Solutions
mySidewalk
LinkedIn | Twitter


Data science for public service. Sarah Martin, the Vice President of Health Solutions for mySidewalk and former Deputy Director of the Kansas City Health Department, joined the podcast to talk about the role of public health and responding to disease. She talked about the policy role of public health departments and how they are responding to COVID-19. Sarah also discussed her work for mySidewalk and shared the resources for local governments they are providing in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Host: Ben Kittelson

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Episode Transcript

Ben Kittelson

This is GovLove, a podcast about local government brought to you by Engaging Local Government Leaders. I’m Ben Kittelson, consultant at the Novak Consulting Group and GovLove co host. Before we get into today’s episode, I want to make sure I announce to our GovLove audience that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ELGL 20 annual conference has been postponed. So instead of taking place this May it will take place October 14 through 16th in Portland, Oregon. And as a reminder, if you want to support GovLove, you should become an ELGL member and join us at that conference. ELGL is all about engaging the brightest minds in local government. We’re also still looking for your feedback. You can visit GovLovesurvey.com to tell us a little bit about what you think of GovLove. Knowing more about you helps us make GovLove better. That’s GovLovesurvey.com. So today we’ve got a little bit different of an episode for you today in light of the COVID-19 situation we’re all faced with across the country. We wanted to talk about public health and responding to epidemics. So let me introduce today’s guest. Sarah Martin is the Vice President of Health Solutions for mySidewalk, a company empowering cities to use data to improve and innovate. Before joining mySidewalk in 2018, she served as the Deputy Director of the City of Kansas City Health Department for three years. Her duties included supervising the community health monitoring epidemiology team and organizing regional public health collaboration. Sarah is also the Board President for the Missouri Board of Healing Arts, a State Committee that oversees licensure for health professions. And today, the day this episode comes out is her birthday. So Happy Birthday Sarah and welcome to GovLove.

Sarah Martin

Thank you.

Ben Kittelson

Appreciate you joining us. We’re gonna break our kind of my usual form for the this episode. I want to talk at high level kinda like the Public Health Department, it’s roll in an epidemic like this, and then we’ll shift gears and hopefully end on a lighter note by talking about Sarah’s career path and her work with mySidewalk. But as always, we are going to get started with a lightning round to get to know our guest a little better. So my first question for you, what was the first concert that you went to?

Sarah Martin

Hmm, it was the Go-Go’s, and that was probably age four. So I vaguely remember kind of being on my dad’s shoulders. I think it was outdoor amphitheater somewhere in Southern California.

Ben Kittelson

Nice. Awesome. And what book are you currently reading?

Sarah Martin

As always, it’s such an embarrassing question because I keep it pretty light. I’m reading a very, very cotton candy book as I call them, just your sugar called Savage News, which is a novel about a female political reporter in DC. It’s it’s about like power and makeovers. [Laughter] It sounds so silly. And I’m also reading a lot of homeschooling resources because I have a feeling that pretty soon here, I’m gonna have a few teenagers in the house who are gonna need things to do for a while.

Ben Kittelson

That’s fair. Yeah, I feel like I for a long time, it’s like books that I’m reading, it’d be almost like homework. And now I’ve just kind of switched gears with like reading things that are fun, and it’s make reading so much more enjoyable. [Laughter] All right. So my next lightning round question for you. As part of your COVID-19 prep, did you stock up on anything?

Sarah Martin

Yeah, oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I, this is going to be like the worst public health answer. So take this, as you will. My bar is very stocked, and it’s like overstocked. So we buy like Kirkland alcohol and then put it into prettier bottles. So, we are real good right now. I have like a giant wheel of Brie and some smoked gouda.  I have all the proteins like chicken, fish, beef. I know what I’m supposed to say, which is toilet paper, Clorox, hand sanitizer, but, uh, no, I had some priorities. So I appreciate now at Costco, they have like a list at the door of what they have and what they don’t. So that’s helpful so you don’t have to go in if you’re looking for something they don’t have.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, we also did a little over prepping and we feel very, like smart to have done that like two weekends ago. Alright, and my last lightning round question. Are you binging or what are you watching right now as you kind of shelter in place for the virus?

Sarah Martin

Yeah, catching up on movies for sure. I just finished Love is Blind like everyone else on earth, and now I’m watching no break, Breakdown YouTube’s on to the kids column YouTube. I am like trying, I’m really trying to work in the phrase. I don’t know if you see my other slide, but I’m trying to like, okay, well, then this won’t be funny to you because I’m trying to work in the phrase, but I know like the audience are going to be people who understand this. But I keep wanting to say to my partner, like, it was different when we were in the pods, which is when you watch it, I’m like, we’ll make sense. And I have anyone wants to hit me up. I do a wonderful impression of everyone’s least favorite contestant on the show or experiment subject there is not supposed to be called a reality show. It’s a social experiment. So that makes a science election. That there’s your segue. That’s a segue right into public health right there.

Ben Kittelson

[Laughter] Perfect. Awesome. Yeah. I don’t even need to host. You got this from here. [Laughter] So we haven’t talked a ton about public health. And I think we’ve had a couple of episodes in the past about some initiatives. I know, I talked with the Houston Health Department director last year about kind of some of the work that was going on in that department. So maybe, for this conversation, I’m interested in talking about, like, kind of the local government piece and the public health department piece of the role in responding to something like COVID-19. But kind of at a more basic, like background level, what are sort of the big buckets of responsibility or kind of and I know this can vary by region. That, you know, the Public Health Department in North Carolina looks different than one in Oregon or the State of Washington. But what are kind of generally the big buckets of responsibility for a public health department?

Sarah Martin

Yeah, so public health, like there’s something you should know about people who work in public health, we love to talk. Like there is, so instead of, you know, oh, what are your three main buckets? So we have 10 buckets. And those buckets are put into three bigger buckets. There’s a wheel, there’s a diagram, there’s always, in public health there’s always a flow chart of some sort or a logic model or a wheel. I don’t know how many of my clients have wheel models. So public health is that’s, that’s what we are a lot of buckets. But the major buckets are going to be across industries across the country assessment. So like what’s happening out there. Assurance, which is probably most of the public health functions that you might know about kind of fit into that big bucket, and then policy development, which was really kind of my bucket that I worked in. But under those three buckets, you’re going to have a lot of services. So the 10 essential services, I think that’s probably trademarked or something is you know, that’s what everybody learns when they go into public health. And so, to you like it to the public, like you probably see public health, this is what’s so fascinating is we did a resident insights survey here in Kansas City, where we asked people like, how satisfied are you with the health department? And we had the highest proportion of people who chose don’t know or does not apply. And that’s shocking, because public health is literally everywhere, like, so in most places, you’re going to have your restaurant inspections, your daycares. I mean, think about how important that is now. And you’re going to have things like lead prevention, indoor, like environmental quality, and outdoor environmental quality, as well as clinical services likely for people who don’t have health insurance, especially in disease screening, since that’s such a huge part of public health. At but then you have that stuff that nobody knows about, right? Which is like who’s passing the laws on seatbelts and helmets? Who is working to get bike lanes, like all of that kind of policy work behind the scenes. Depending on where you are in the country, public health will be more or less involved with that. That’s, you know, there’s a huge transformation happening in public health and it’s it’s called public health 3.0 and it’s just this evolution of just telling people what they should and should not do. So I don’t know how many people you know in City Hall would walk the other way if they’re eating a doughnut because they were worried I was gonna lecture them and I wouldn’t lecture anyone on their choices. And and so instead of like being you know, your your high school health class video, right, like the PSA is a straight up health education promotion and focusing on you know, moving to focus on leveraging technology to get better information, better messaging and really focusing on those structural causes of health outcomes, not behavioral causes of health outcomes and realizing it’s a you know, it’s a it’s a spectrum, right. So it’s, it’s a really fun time to be in public health. It’s a scary time for a lot of reasons, but you know, for even before all this, it’s a scary time because it’s like, what is the role of public health now as we decentralize and and we really like get involved in so many different policy areas and local government areas what what is our unique contribution and I think there’s this self assessment happening at the same time, we’re now back to doing kind of the essential essential service, which is tracking disease and preventing, you know, outbreaks. So yeah, it’s a lot.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, well, I didn’t realize the the policy aspect. That’s, that’s super interesting, like the kind of disease tracking and the health scores, that makes total sense and like, may not come in mind when the first time you think about public health, but once you’re that someone points it out, you’re like, Oh, yeah. But the the policy piece I didn’t realize is there, I mean, I know you mentioned a couple of examples, but is there like one they worked on in Kansas City that might be an example of how public health departments can be more involved with policy?

Sarah Martin

Oh, yeah, absolutely. So that we didn’t have a, I know where like, I knew this would happen [unclear audio] like skip ahead, but but the policy piece in Kansas City relies on having leadership who are really bought into the idea of policy to improve health, and that’s a long, that’s a long game, right? Like that’s not something you’re going to see in a term, like, you know, in terms of a mayor, like you’re not moving the needle on life expectancy. So I just said, move the needle and I swore in 2020, I was retiring that phrase, so cut that Ben. So probably one of our major policy wins was passing a local prescription drug monitoring program. And a PDMP is like a, you know, is a registry basically of prescriptions. And Missouri is the last state to have one. So instead of waiting around for the state, which wasn’t going to happen, St. Louis and Kansas City joined forces and decided to pass local ordinances where we could create our own and then we worked with Senator McCaskill’s office to get funding directly to the local health department’s instead of waiting on the state. So that’s an example. Another second example would be rental inspections. So who has the authority to respond to tenant complaints and look for holes or lead or broken stairs? And so, you know, we rallied for that. That was a tough, it was definitely a tough, a tough win. We did win, but it was quite a fight as you can imagine. Like landlords were definitely out in force against that one. So so you know, plastic bag ban, helmet laws, as I mentioned, is, you know, a big one. We run into a lot of things in theory. I’m originally from California from a very like conservative County, and there was something always It was nice to know that the state of California was going to make sure that like my local municipality could not pass you know, discriminatory laws, you know, so you kind of like rest, rest easy knowing that. But here, it’s opposite. So we have a very conservative state legislature, they preempt a lot of the work that we tried to do. And that means you got to move fast and quietly, you know, so that might be why you don’t know a lot like you may not realize that the public health department is doing certain things behind the scenes, because the louder they are, sometimes they attract the, you know, the ire of the legislators and they can get kind of shut down. So…

Ben Kittelson

Yeah I know.

Sarah Martin

A lot more exciting, a lot more exciting than you probably imagined. Like, a lot of it is politically interesting

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, very exciting and the preemption stuff, that sounds very familiar to my time in North Carolina, so I, I feel for the folks facing that. So kind of like to shift to, you know, the, the epidemic at hand. What is kind of the role of a public health department during something like a COVID-19 outbreak or maybe even a more localized you know, disease that that pops up in a community. Like what, what are they, what are kind of what is the day to day like for people working in public health and something like that, like this is happening?

Sarah Martin

Yeah, it’s hectic. It’s uncertain on the day to day for sure. I mean, the public health department’s main role is going to be to assess the situation, figure out what’s happening, and really, at this point to be a source of truth, credibility in advising other lawmakers, like, what’s the best? What’s the evidence base course of action? You know, what should we do? Right? So you think of these policy buckets we have at our disposal under a state of emergency, and the mayor or city manager is deciding, you know, should we close the schools? What’s the occupancy limit for restaurants? How will we support people as they lose income, like they’re going to lean on the expertise of the health director or the communicable disease director to understand the pandemic in that way. So, and then of course, you know, you would be fielding requests from the media, from constituents constantly. If I could guess like, what my day would be like. and in my kind of portfolio of work as the deputy I was, I was in charge of marketing and communication staff as well as the epidemiologists who are doing kind of the health, health monitoring, and government relations. So this definitely would have been like in my wheelhouse at this point. My day would likely be full of meetings with other policymakers, city council probably all individually want briefs. What do we close this? You know, what are the latest testing numbers? What are the trends? At this point, you know, it’s novel, like novel means new. So, I mean, I know people hate to hear this, but it’s like, who knows, like you don’t like you’re looking at all of the statistical models and you’re trying to have a margin of error around it and then also be kind of conservative but not panic, and so on. Most of our day probably would have been spent on messaging and media coverage and thinking how you make sure that you have that perfect balance of caution and taking it seriously while maintaining trust with the people. And of course as always, and this is happening to me now, like texts from all of the people that you know in town, who are like, what what’s happening that you’re not telling me you know, like, like even now like, like, people are texting in town, you know, be like, hey, do you know anything? It’s like I haven’t worked at the health department in over a year. So yeah, I mean, like, you know, like look, I’m still like, nothing has made me like miss. I haven’t missed I’m having the time of my life in my job. You know, like, I love it much like you like moving to something where you can impact government all across the country that is so meaningful, but man, I missed the adrenaline of this stuff. Okay. My friends, my friends who are actually in it are like you are crazy [laughter], like, there’s something really exciting and meaningful about it, because a lot of departments have the authority under state of emergency to close places. And that also bleeds into all the environmental health function that they’re already doing. And so, so yeah, so that’s, I mean, every day that’s got it, everyone’s blood pressure is got to be sky high at this time.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah. Crazy. Well, and kind of, to your point, that communication, I think, from the local governments that I follow, which, you know, tend to be the ones that are good at the social media and communicate with public like I think they’ve done an amazing job of the getting some of this like basic public health stuff out and you know, how long you need to be washing your hands, what social distancing means, like, and then like, as the kind of restrictions have come down to you know, further limit the spread that what, you know, what restaurants or you know, should be doing and you know, are restricted to doing and, you know, what, what kind of the safe operation is like. To your point, like, I think from what I’ve seen, like the local governments out there that are, you know, are doing a good job of communicating like, what, what folks need to know, during this.

Sarah Martin

Yeah.

Ben Kittelson

I know one of the other things that kind of the role public health departments can play in communities is this kind of convener and collaborator. So I mean, most public health departments aren’t gonna have a, you know, 100 bed or multi, you know, hundreds of beds of a hospital or anything like that, but what kind of like communication between you know, service providers and hospital systems would there be with like a public health department in kind of a situation like this?

Sarah Martin

Well, yeah, you would hope it’s gonna build on already strong network. So one of the main, one of the core functions of public health is to track communicable diseases and that is actually relies on a network of communication between providers and public health and there is this maybe underlying but like tension, maybe a little bit of adversarial relationship in some places between public health and healthcare, because there is, you know, a real national obsession over health care health insurance. But I mean, the most generous percentage of your health that it predicts is 15%, maybe 20. So, if 80% of your health is, is predicted by not only genetics, which is a small slice, but your social and economic conditions, you know, it can really but all the money and attention is going to healthcare, it can really set up this, this, this, this relationship, that doesn’t bode well for when you have to work together in an emergency. So, a lot of this, a lot of this rests on how much authority the local agencies have. So speaking generally like and this is in the weeds, but I know this is like an audience of nerds. So everyone will love this.

Ben Kittelson

You are in good hands here. [Laughter]

Sarah Martin

Yeah, I’m in good company here. There are and you probably, you actually refer to it. There’s different governance structures that determine how much autonomy a department has. So the local agencies have either a really loose or a tight link to the state health department, and people forget about them, but they report to the federal government for disease surveillance. So you have this like three tier system, where the locals report to the state’s report to the CDC. And you know, there’s a middleman there in the state health department. So some states like Florida, completely centralized where the every local health agency is a state agency. So they are Florida Department of Health in Clay County, and that was a shout out to Clay County, one of my clients. So a Clay County is full team place. And then you have a decentralized version, which is like everyone’s on their own kind of like chartered, very autonomous and they kind of just had a loose relationship with the state health department but they’re mandatorily required to report certain diseases. So the doctor is, so you go to the doctor, they give you a test. I guess you can only get a test now if you’re an NBA player. So you are Kevin Durant and like you go, or you’re Edris Elba or you’re an NBA player. So you’re Kevin Durant. And you you go in and like you get swamped. And then they say, okay, it’s COVID-19. That doctor is mandatorily required within a certain amount of time, and these ordinances differ depending on state but like to get that result to the local health department. So then you can imagine, right, like feeding everythings feeding into one place, and disease surveillance staff, I mean, they are the, I’m glad people understand what epidemiology is now, because these people are the unsung heroes. On a normal day, on a normal day, their job is to figure out where did this start? What are the clusters? Like, who did Kevin Durant talk to, right? So Kevin Durant’s like, here’s 10 people I’ve come in contact with, in the last, maybe it’s Drake, right? I’m convinced that Drake has COVID-19. Like, you heard you heard it here first because it is Drake. Because he is friends with a lot of the NBA players. So, I have myself mapped out like a beautiful mind, I have like paper and like mapping out, you know. So, imagine that something like, you know, any sort of communicable disease, can be E-Coli or something. So E-Coli, you know, it’s clearly probably going to be foodborne. So you’ll figure out what restaurants and they have to interview people. They call people and say, describe your symptoms. And then maybe if it’s foodborne, those symptoms are kind of gross, and they have to actually get detailed information about said bodily function. That is the Lord’s work like, you know, I mean, can you imagine, and that and you have communicable disease staff doing STD tracking, having to ask very personal questions about who you have, you know, been around, so like, and then go test them. And sometimes they’re testing them in, you know, pulling blood in cars, libraries, on the side of the road, like, it is definitely something that I’m so thankful if there’s some silver lining to what’s happening, that people are understanding the importance of this, and that physicians and labs will understand the importance of timely reporting, because it’s very hard to enforce that, in a normal a normal time, right. So hopefully, this is going to be our wake up call, do like these networks of collaboration and reporting have to be stronger and quicker. And not paper. [Laughter] Like we felt like we shouldn’t be courier, like in a tube or something like from one to another. Like we have to have a better system.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah. That’s yeah, that’s fascinating. So I mean, you touched on it a little bit. The ACP of epidemiologists you know, if they’re trying to track something like an outbreak of COVID-19, they’re they’re trying to talk to everybody that person that suspect is or has been infected or you know, confirmed infection that everyone they’ve kind of interacted with or places they’ve been kind of going out and trying to try to map out these clusters.

Sarah Martin

Mm Hmm

Ben Kittelson

Vey cool. Interesting.

Sarah Martin

Yeah, a lot of it is just like mapping network. So you know, that’s going to be umm foodborne illness was definitely my favorite class. Not because it’s something I did later because, like, it’s so in the trenches, you know, and I’m just fascinated by it. I’m often at dinner parties, because I normally have to tell, people always think they got food poisoning at a restaurant. So then I ask them, like, how many hours ago did you eat there? And it turns out, nine times out of 10 they poisoned themselves. [Laughter] Like yeah, like, restaurants are way cleaner than your own kitchen. Like stop thinking you had bad shrimp. Like you didn’t like clean.

Ben Kittelson

There’s probably a dirty cutting board or something.

Sarah Martin

Yeah, for sure. It was probably your kale. Honestly, it’s like your leafy vegetables, organic leafy vegetables might have had a little bit of like, fertilizer in or like natural stuff in there. So yeah, so that’s super fun. So like debunk those those myths. And that’s like what that that class way back when I’m still paying off I guess.

Ben Kittelson

It’s really fun at parties then. [Laughter]

Sarah Martin

Yeah, yeah.

Ben Kittelson

So is there anything else kind of, you know, with the public health kind of rolling this or local government rolling this that, you know, folks should know about or thinking about as you know, we deal with with COVID-19? Anything that we kind of haven’t talked about already that, you know, involves the public health department or kind of local government during a situation like this?

Sarah Martin

Yeah, I mean, this is, this is not to be alarmist but there’s been nothing like this. Even for, you know, someone like my director who I worked for. He’s been in it. He’s been in the game a really long time decades, you know, and this isn’t H1N1 or SARS or any of your normal, normal pandemics. This is different, and I don’t just mean from a bad way, I mean, in a good way that people are different, the cultural context is different. We, everybody has the power to actually stop this. And the, I think this is just a time for grace, as we realize that local government officials, they’ve just they’ve never had to deal with this. And, and I think it’s extended grace through the secondary and tertiary you may have heard, like, fallout from this. When we think about the kids out of school, and not just immediate needs, but long term impacts of this will define a little mini generation of people and we need to make sure that we’re you know, supporting our economy our local economy and supporting our kids and supporting our families. And I think that starts with like, everybody can do something. And if you can do nothing else, you can maybe stay home. You know, you can maybe skip that birthday party or whatever. I mean, not that I’m speaking personally but you know. [Laughter]

Ben Kittelson

Host a virtual birthday party for you.

Sarah Martin

Yeah, I was thinking to have it. Today we’re having a zoom happy hour at work. [Laughter] So I’m looking forward to that. Yeah.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, yeah. To your point, like, it’s definitely unprecedented. And it feels kind of like everyone is facing a hur… it feels like before a hurricane like down here in the south. But like everyone is facing a hurricane. I don’t know. It’s just it’s very odd, but definitely, like some grace and some understanding that like, you know, we’re in uncharted territory. Alright, so I’m going to totally shift gears. So if we’ve kind of talked about, you know, the current pandemic, and some of the connection with local government and some of the work that kind of people are doing day to day right now. I want to talk more about kind of your career path and your current work with my mySidewalk. So, one of my, my favorite questions is kind of how people ended up in the field they are in. So for you, we talked about kind of your role at Kansas City and in public health. What was your path to ending up in this field and in the public health realm?

Sarah Martin

It was super sideways. Like I came into it. It I think, like my, like, career has been a series of like, I didn’t think that would happen, and then it does, you know, like kind of those best laid plans, you know, and then and, you know, I, I’ve always been the type of person that’s like, here’s the plan. Here’s the plan. Like here’s the the two year, the five year. I grew up, you know, as first gen college student. Parents didn’t go to college, like grew up pretty working class. And so I just very much if you take the Clifton Strengths Finder, and I’ve lost this one, which I’m very pleased about, but achiever, right? They have like your to do list and check it off and you know nothing ever, ever turned out the way I expected it to. So I started my grad school career at the Goldman School of Public Policy at Berkeley, the nation’s best and oldest School of Public Policy. So I went for a Master’s of Public Policy and I thought two years in and out. I along the way during that had my daughter who I just wrote about in morning buzz, I actually had a dream last night that ELGL fired me from writing. And it wasn’t like the Wyatts, like they didn’t do it. It was like some woman who was like, French or something like you are fired, like you’re not writing anymore, and I’m like, Oh my gosh, it’s my favorite thing to do. So my daughter was born so I had to take a semester off to have her and it gave me the opportunity to add a second master’s degree, like do a dual degree. And I had a really, really amazing boss at the time, and I’m going to name drop at you Ben, get ready, get your umbrella out. So, Robert Rice, who you may know, as former Secretary of Labor under Clinton, I was one of his teaching assistants. And he assigned a book, Mountains Beyond Mountains. And it is a book about Paul Farmer who started Partners in Health, which fights malaria, other tropical diseases in Haiti, especially as like, kind of where they got started. And it is a biography of a very complicated man. So it’s a leadership course, you know, and this is a guy who isn’t very nice, like to his family, you know, it’s kind of what’s the price of success when it comes to like eradicating disease. But it’s really actually about politics and policy and disease. And I could not stop thinking about this book and that wasn’t the plan. Like I wasn’t I didn’t know anything about public health. And I just started, like investigating meeting people in the School of Public Health. I ended up adding an MPH in Epidemiology as a dual degree which had never been done before. There was usually people who do health care policy. Right? You would want that dual degree in public health and public policy. I was like, no, everything is health policy like. And I met folks at the Alameda County Health Department in Oakland, California, always looking for a side gig. Like I always have to be doing like multiple jobs, like even now, what else can I be selling or doing you know? So they’re like, hey, we have to write this social determinants of health and, you know, report and that was when that phrase had not even really been used, like people were starting to say, hey, guess what, you know, not having a job makes you sick. And they’re like, you know, we don’t have anyone to write these chapters. So now you’re a transportation and land use expert I was like, okay, like you do analysis and I was like looking at transit and I can tell you everything you need to know about like, bus times and and the effect on the environment and effect on social connections. And so I was just like, right place right time, right people, you know, Berkeley was really like this beautiful laboratory for this field that’s called epigenetics, which is an Darlene Francis, if you ever like want to get super geeked out her work is so amazing. She basically, like you’re getting rats to be jealous and stressed of each other. And you can model like inequality in society with chocolate and mice and then kind of measure their response, you know, their stress response or cortisol. So I had that like laboratory exposure, which is really amazing. And then my dissertation advisor ended up staying for a PhD in public policy. So I was trained by economists. So I have like this really great, my dissertation advisor just published a book. He’s amazing, his name is Rucker Johnson. And it is about the long term impact of desegregation, like Brown v board, right? So, these, this is what’s swirling around me at the time, right? It’s like clinical work, and then this economics approach, and then then a birth me in my career and so that’s, that’s what’s amazing about just the people who come across, you know, in your life and I remember Rucker, he is a man of color. And I said something like, I don’t want to do public health. That’s like a woman field. I was like, I want to do something that people don’t expect. And I’m gonna, you know, and he’s like, why? And another thing is like I study race because I know it and no one has to tell me what the black experience was like and no one has to tell you what it’s like to birth a baby and be on WIC or, you know, try to breastfeed and not know how like, these are all things that you understand innately, which makes you uniquely responsible to talk about them. And I always really valued and cherished that if I so I tried to be a professor, that’s actually what brought me to Kansas City. I got my PhD. I did the whole academic job search, went to a tenure track position here at a business school and a couple years in I just realized wasn’t it wasn’t for me, it is not for everybody. I didn’t really care about tenure. Like I was just like, can I just do Applied Research and Policy and and so then, I ended up being a mayoral appointee to our Health Commission here locally and fell in love with people of health department pitched the job I said, Hey, wouldn’t this be a cool job and and we made it work and then was born, the first you know, position that was really focused on policy in the public health department and served as a national model for other health departments who are looking to do more policy work. So

Ben Kittelson

Way cool. That’s awesome.

Sarah Martin

Yeah.

Ben Kittelson

So and then, I mean, you were in that role for, I think I said at the beginning, like three years or so. Um,

Sarah Martin

yep. Yeah.

Ben Kittelson

So what what is, what was the opportunity at mySidewalk and kind of what’s the work you’re doing with with them now?

Sarah Martin

Yeah, I mean, that’s a that’s a pretty clear extension of, I didn’t see that coming, you know. And that’s why I’ve like really focused on just being I guess the word would be expectant. You know, like, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s going to be great, whatever it is. MySidewalk actually is. So we’re a technology firm, which you mentioned at the beginning and I, I was actually a customer of mySidewalk. So mySidewalk participated in like a one of those kind of incubators for startups. They won a spot in that for the city and I met their CEO Steven Hardy now my boss, and you know, we were scheming a little bit. I thought, you know, this, what you have is so great. I really think Health would like it. Like I think health departments would be all over this. I had worked with other vendors before, I had really been burned a couple times. And I was like, I think I can go back to the trough for money one more time before my directors like, no more, like you’re, you’re not doing this anymore, so and so just kind of fell in love and i’ll talk in a minute, in a minute about what we actually do. But I fell in love with the people first and their spirit and their creativity and having spent so much time in the Bay Area, like I had a real distaste for tech startup culture and Rose, you know, like so. And I’d been pitched I’ve been pitched as in my position as Deputy Director, so many, like smart cities, you know, oh, we’re going to disrupt asthma or whatever, you know, like every five minutes someone has some intervention and the humility of mySidewalk and what they do really appealed to me and so I started consulting side gig with them to help them develop a product for public health departments and healthcare. And we had one customer in health in the health space. And they had plenty of other stuff to do with planning and city performance and fire departments. But with one health customer, it was me. And fast forward, so now I was consulting for a few months and I was convinced after a couple really strong cocktails, with the CEO, I said, he said, let’s do this. And at the time I was I had told Kansas City, you know, like I can commit to three years, just because it was kind of one of those new positions. I was reorganizing some stuff and it was like, that’s not something that I felt was long term. It’s really more of a like, get things in order. And I had an opportunity to be a health director, you know, which is the natural if I was sticking with my to do list, right. It was this position deputy for a minute health director in a very large department and it was the third largest health department in the country, like It was a big one right? Would have gotten me closer to home and so I turned it down and I said I don’t have the emotional and mental capacity to serve 4 million people right now. I want to see what this is all about. Like I want to try this you know I want to try I want to jump into this crazy like adventure. And here we are, fast forward 70 something communities have mySidewalk and that was like in a year and a half maybe so and I’m that’s just for health. We have hundreds in other things. But so if I would do that, like elevator pitch about mySidewalk, I usually describe it as a mobile first designed, ADA compliant publishing platform. So a publishing platform, you want to make a website, you know, like that kind of thing. That’s the easiest thing you’ll ever use. And it’s beautiful, but integrates the largest data library like one stop shop data library for visualizations. So instead of going to like 40 different government websites to get 40 different things, you know, put it all in one place, pre analyzes, slice it at every geography in the country, and give people six or seven options for how to visualize and write and do all things. So imagine like, you know, you just want to make a coded list, you know, you want to communicate some information real fast. Do you want to have to go through your seven rings of purgatory and IT department or will you just publish a one pager? It’s assigned a unique URL, you push it out to the people like. So I my role is VP of Health Solutions. So I oversee all the work in public health and increasingly healthcare. So most of our work recently, strategic partnerships have been with payers, which has been really fun because I definitely was biased, I think, towards local government agencies because of my background, and now I’m like, well, dang like the payers have money and like they’re willing to shake up the system and pay for everybody to get stuff. And it’s like, it’s been really heartening to see such good hearted, amazing people in an industry that I think often gets vilified. And that’s been a real eye opener for me. So, we’re all about like, democratization of data, like it is not fair. Like we can have a point of view. It’s really crazy. And I think when you shift from public to private sector to realize that people can be mission driven and profit driven at the same time, they’re not contradictory values, that you know, we’re here because it’s not fair that only a few select people can access data, visualize it, publish it, talk about it. That’s, that’s a system set up to basically like value people with advanced training. And that’s, to me, like just antithetical. It’s like the idea of like, what data should should be? So my day to day, my day to day is I kind of like referenced earlier about, like, what before we were talking before we started recording. And just like the number of different people I have to talk to on a day to day, so I work across all the different functions. So that would be marketing, sales, customer success, product development, like just trying to do what’s best, and then for the industry, and then try to strategize about growth opportunities and where that’s going. So a lot of you know recently as things like, have ramped up, my day to day is really heavy on business development. And that’s a little hard in this day and age. We are, you know, in how can you do what you do without looking like vultures optimistic, and you know, I’ve seen so many bad marketing emails, we actually have a whole thread. We have a whole Slack channel. You know, it’s like what not to do like, you know, There are real bad, real bad ones out there. They’re like worse than the MLK Jr. Like that bad tweet , you know It’s like, it’s like they’re, they’re right up there.

Ben Kittelson

And what, is there, can you share, like maybe an example of like, a health department or a local government that’s using mySidewalk and what kind of, you know, bring this down in one place can do for them?

Sarah Martin

Oh, yeah, for sure. I mean, that it’s really like it’s a digital companion to for health department specifically, they always like as I even mentioned, with all our buckets, like, what, you know, they never met an adjective they didn’t love, like, you know, like, it’s like, well, why write 10 pages when you could write 300 you know, why have five graphs and you go hundred hundred and 80. So, a lot of our work is actually in in services and kind of helping them turn something that’s very overwhelming to something that’s digestible for the community and then tracking engagement with that digital experience, to test out messages. So we do a lot of like communication support and messaging support. So in this time like of COVID, this is exactly what people are doing is saying, let’s communicate the latest numbers, let’s use data on vulnerability populations, where are the pockets of folks that we should be most concerned about. So within a couple of minutes, they’re able to use our platform to spin up a map. Maybe it’s by neighborhood or city council district, depending on what geography is relevant to the audience. And they will actually be able to just color that in with data, no GIS experience like this is all like native into the it’s baked into the platform. They could pick something like social disadvantage index or percent of people over 65 without health insurance and be able to create a very simple visualization of that, share it either internally. Maybe it’s something they just want to brief the mayor. So they just like share it privately or they can publish it. So we’re seeing right now, we actually have a page of resources that we’re giving out, you know, free, like anybody who wants it. We’ve created a template, a template for like COVID-19, kind of vulnerable populations that we’re happy to make for whoever. So, you know, by the time we hear this, we’ll probably have created 100 of those for people we don’t even know, you know, like, they helped me figure out where are the people I should be most concerned about and how can I tailor my outreach based on where they are, we always say Oh, meet people where they’re at, but we can’t do that if we don’t know where they are. So that’s, that’s why we’re here.

Ben Kittelson

Very cool. We’ll have to add a link to that, if it’s on your guys’s website, somewhere to kind of our show notes, so listeners can find it.

Sarah Martin

I’ll, I’ll email that to you for sure.

Ben Kittelson

Perfect. Awesome. Kind of anything else around mySidewalk work and all that that you want to share with the listeners?

Sarah Martin

No, I think the same, like the same grace, we extend to the government officials, I mean, Gov tech, gov tech vendors, right? You’re so much of your business has been supporting government helping them function, you know, and we’re just trying to like feed our families too. So when your pipeline kind of, you know, skirt, you know, it can be stressful for us too. So, like, you know, we’re all kind of in this together, and you want to Jason to government had a real hit to their, you know, their their forecast early in the year when it’s the hardest time to swallow that like the rest of the year. So, you know, we’ll we’ll figure it out. And, and I think that also assumed best intent. That’s one of our core values of our company that we say a lot. And I think that even though we laugh about the marketing emails and people Like popping into like a Facebook thing like trying to sell their essential oils or whatever. Everyone’s scared and everyone’s just trying to keep the lights on. So let’s, let’s just be good to each other.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, that’s well said. So probably the hardest question I’ll ask you today. If you could be the GovLove DJ and you got to pick our exit music for this episode, what song would you pick?

Sarah Martin

That is a tough one. I’ll spare you all that my church music. So, my favorite chorus like of any song ever, is apparently by Jay Cole. You would probably want the radio version so just an FYI. I used to have to walk so I would walk to city hall for hearing like council hearings or appearances because I lived a few blocks away when I was working for the city and the chorus was always my pre appearance, like go to song that I would listen to as I was walking into City Hall. So

Ben Kittelson

Awesome. We’ll get that queued up then. So that ends our episode for today. Sarah, thanks so much for coming on and talking with me.

Sarah Martin

And thank you for having me. This is so fun and I just want to say to ELGL has been so good to me even when I left working for government and there’s so many of us that my sidewalks who just like feel a huge debt of gratitude to ELGL for supporting our work and you know, recognizing that you know, Gov tech vendors are people too, so I appreciate that.

Ben Kittelson

Awesome. And yeah, to our listeners, I hope you’re staying safe out there and we’ll we’ll try to continue bringing you GovLove as normal so you can you know, occupy your time with some new local government talk. And GovLove is brought to you by ELGL. You can reach us online @elgl.org\GovLove or on Twitter at the handle @govlovepodcast. As always you can support GovLove by joining in Engaging Local Government Leaders. Membership is just $40 for an individual. And like I mentioned at the top, our annual conference will be this fall, that’s been postponed to October 14 through 16th. So I hope you can join us in Portland. And lastly, subscribe to GovLove on your favorite podcast app. And if you’re already subscribed, go tell a friend or colleague about this podcast. You know, some folks are working from home now might have a lot of you know time to kill to listen to some podcasts. So help us spread the word that GovLove is the go to place for local government stories. With that, thank you for listening. This has been GodLove, a podcast about local government.

 

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