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Dr. Joseph Bates Honored as ASTHO Public Health Hero

C O P H Professor Department of Epidemiology Joseph Bates, M D, M S at award ceremonyJoseph Bates, MD, MS was honored on Sept. 11 at the annual meeting of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) as the 2014 recipient of the ASTHO State Excellence in Public Health Award in recognition of his outstanding service in public health. The award was one of six “public health heroes awards” given by ASTHO this year.

Dr. Bates is the Deputy State Health Officer and Chief Science Officer for the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), as well as a Professor of Epidemiology and the Associate Dean for Public Health Practice at the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health (COPH) at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).

At the awards ceremony, Dr. Bates was honored as an internationally recognized researcher in tuberculosis and as a “tireless leader and advocate for public health for five decades.” Presenting the award to him were David Lakey, MD, past President of ASTHO and Commissioner of the Texas Department of Health Services, Paul Halverson, DrPH, FACHE, former ADH Director, and Nathaniel Smith, MD, MPH, current ADH Director and State Health Officer, who nominated Dr. Bates for the award.

“He helped pioneer short-course, outpatient treatment of this disease, closing down the sanatoriums and transforming the management of this disease,” Dr. Lakey said.

That innovation, in collaboration with ADH, in fact, helped eliminate tuberculosis as a major public health threat and reduce Arkansas case rates from well above to well below the national average.

After an illustrious career in academic medicine, Dr. Bates joined the ADH as Director of the Tuberculosis Control Program in 1998 and has served as Deputy State Health Officer and Chief Science Officer since 2005. He played a key role in the establishment of the COPH at UAMS and since 2005 has served as a member of its faculty and administration. He has also been a vocal supporter for state legislation affecting health and an advocate for the needs of those who are marginalized.

Dr. Bates provided critical leadership for the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2006, which protects Arkansans from secondhand smoke. He has championed the health needs of the more than 6,000 citizens of the Marshall Islands living in Arkansas. The ADH clinic built in 2011 in Springdale, Ark., to serve the needs of the Marshallese is named in his honor.

Dr. Bates initiated and continues to coordinate the weekly Public Health Grand Rounds at the ADH, and he serves on the editorial board of Public Health Reports, the official journal of the U.S. Public Health Service. He has served as President of the American Lung Association and President of the American Thoracic Society, and his numerous awards include the Distinguished Service Award from the UAMS College of Medicine, the Trudeau Medal from the American Thoracic Society, and the Will Ross Medal from the American Lung Association.

At the award ceremony, Dr. Bates said he was “deeply honored” to receive the award, but chose to focus his remarks on the qualities of public health professionals that make difficult change possible. “We are optimists, but we are more than optimists,” Dr. Bates said. “We are determined people, and we are persistent. Those are wonderful qualities for getting things done.

“We have heard that 25 of the 30 years or so of longer life expectancy gained in the 20th century was the result of public health, and that is true. Another way of saying this is that public health did more than all the other professions combined. I like to say it that way. But how did this happen? I have been in this for quite a while, and as I look back, most of the great things that did happen in public health were opposed by people in high places when they were first introduced.

At first, advances such as chlorinated water, sewer systems, immunizations and restrictions on smoking were vehemently opposed, he noted. “And yet, optimism, persistence, determination won the day.”

And the public health conquests of the 21st century will be no less notable, he said, naming what he believes are the major challenges of today: climate change, air pollution, and chronic disease.

“We will do just as well. And even now the right things to do are being opposed by people in high places, but we will win those battles, I know we will, because of our qualities,” Dr. Bates said. “We have purpose, we have determination, and we are optimistic.”

ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ.