Leigh N. Cannon, MPH, has been promoted to the position of health commissioner by the Fayette County Board of Health.
Cannon has 17 years of experience in public health, all served at the local public health district. She started her career as the emergency preparedness coordinator and led the county through the H1N1 response. She has also served as the accreditation coordinator. She was promoted to deputy health commissioner in 2010.
Cannon received her undergraduate degree from the Ohio State University and her master of public health from Cappella University.
She is a member of the Association of Ohio Health Commissioners (AOHC) and serves on several local boards.
Get to know the new health commissioner with a Q & A session.
What drew you to the field of public health?
I originally planned on being a high school guidance counselor and public health sort of fell into my lap. At the time I was working as a marketing and sales representative and underwriter for State Auto Insurance. I had just had my first child and I was struggling to make the drive to and from Columbus every day.
Out of the blue, my mom, who worked as a public health nurse at the health department until her death in 2012, told me about an opening for the emergency preparedness position. I was fortunate enough to be offered the position and that opened the door to public health.
In 2010, I became the Deputy Health Commissioner, acting as the full-time administrator, and have held that position for 12 years. During my time at FCPH, I knew this was where I belonged, so I went on to get my Master of Public Health in 2019.
Growing up, my grandfather, Bucky Dumford, was county commissioner for 27 years and my other grandfather, Robert Cannon, was a Deputy Sheriff for the county my entire childhood. I grew up watching what a public servant really was and before I even realized it myself, I had the same public servant drive as my grandfathers before me. Working for the community came easy for me and I quickly became invested in the health and safety of others.
Can you share some career highlights?
I have made it through two pandemics now (H1N1 and COVID-19). Knowing the job and how to react in a crisis situation helped me tremendously during the traumatic parts of the last few years. That is not what I would classify as the best part of my job though.
Knowledge and experience are key in a crisis situation, but what really sets us apart are the people who work for the health district and for Fayette County. I was absolutely blown away by the support, grit, and determination shown by our staff during COVID-19. Without them, I am just an ordinary person. They made leading them easy.
My favorite part of my job is always the people. The people in the office, the agency partners who never hesitate to jump in and assist us at every turn, and also the people of the community. It may have seemed like a lot of negativity circulating on social media over the last several years, but I assure you, there are way more positive people living and fighting in the trenches right along with us. Those people kept us going! Despite the hard parts of the last three years, I am grateful to have seen first-hand the folks that do support us and have the same drive as I do in protecting Fayette County.
How has public health changed since you started?
It is funny to actually look back and reflect on this question as so much has changed in 17 years yet not much has changed either! Public Health is public health. We will always have to deal with emerging diseases, environmental issues, immunization clinics, pandemics, substance use disorders, school health services, and such.
What has changed the most for me is the experiences. During each crisis, we learn and grow and hope that we do not repeat past mistakes. Sometimes we do better. Sometimes we do the same. Sometimes we fall backward. One thing I have learned thanks to COVID-19 is that public health is extremely underfunded. We have always been underfunded and we were fine staying in the background until the latest pandemic shot us into the spotlight and showed the world that public health is vital, and support and investment in public health programs are needed.
Despite the limited funding, and occasional lack of resources, public health in Fayette County worked smarter to provide the best care for our citizens that we could muster. There are so many issues that affect the health of the population, and that public health impacts, yet so many do not understand the depths and resources required to manage it all. This has always been a struggle and I hope that in the future this becomes easier for the public health workforce.
What are your future plans or goals for Fayette County Public Health?
We are still in recovery mode from COVID-19. I am focused on creating a safe and healthy work environment for our staff and for our clients who visit our building. We want to continue our partnerships with our local partners and work towards our goal of focusing on important work like public health accreditation, a new electronic medical records (EMR) system, building onto programs, bringing new programs into the agency, and staying up to date on emerging issues. We are ready to move forward!
To learn more about Fayette County Public Health and the services and programs offered, visit faycohd.org or find them on Facebook.