Where is Pat Libbey?

A Message from the Director of the Center for Sharing Public Health Services

In our Director’s Message today, we introduced you to Dr. Samuel Crumbine, a pioneer in public health. Today, we’d like to talk about a modern-day public health pioneer, Pat Libbey, who served as co-director of the Center from 2012-2018. As we announced in January 2019, Pat decided to begin a long, winding road toward retirement. We are happy to announce that he has finally made it (well, almost) to that destination.

Before Pat served as co-director for the Center, he was executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and before that he was a local public health director for Thurston County Public Health & Social Services Department in Olympia, Washington. While at NACCHO, his signature effort was to develop an operational definition of a functional local health department. At the time, there was concern that people outside of public health would decide what health departments should be doing, and that could lead to top-down consolidation and other negative effects.

He directed an initiative that resulted in a working definition that health departments across the country adopted. When accreditation efforts began, that definition was one of the frameworks that served as a foundation for standards and measures. As accreditation efforts took hold, a conversation began about what would happen to health departments who could not do the work on their own — would they be forced into mergers and consolidations?

At the same time, Pat was working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to better understand and support regionalization efforts taking place in Kansas and Massachusetts. When Pat retired from NACCHO, RWJF sought him out and asked him to study the different ways that health departments could work together to accomplish everything that was expected of them, especially when faced with limited funding.

Along with Bruce Miyahara, Pat developed an environmental scan and learned that some health departments were collaborating to deliver services that they couldn’t deliver on their own. RWJF asked Pat to come out of retirement to further understand and support these collaborations, and the Center was born.

While Dr. Crumbine was a pioneer in public health education, Pat Libbey is a modern-day pioneer in improving effectiveness and efficiency in the public health system. Also like Dr. Crumbine, Pat is known for his insightful sayings. Here are two of my favorites:

  • “Ever onward if not upward.” By this, Pat means we should continue pushing forward, even if we are not seeing progress in the moment.
  • “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” When saying this, he reminds us to ensure that one’s pursuit of perfection doesn’t interfere with progress once a perfectly sufficient path forward has been identified.

With Pat’s retirement, I am serving as solo director for the Center. I miss Pat’s day-to-day involvement in our work, as well as his rich sense of humor and insightful ideas. But, like I said in the opening paragraph, Pat has “almost” made it to retirement because, frankly, I somehow can’t leave him alone. We are close friends and we continue to talk on a regular basis. While I try to stay away from business during those conversations, I often find myself bouncing ideas off of him because of his immense expertise in the area of cross-jurisdictional sharing. I guess that’s going to have to be close enough to retirement for now.

— Gianfranco Pezzino, Director