Press Room

ASTHO Honors 2015 Public Health Heroes

SALT LAKE CITY, UT (Sept. 30, 2015)The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) is pleased to announce the winners of the 2015 ASTHO public health heroes awards.

Anne Schuchat, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases and assistant surgeon general, was awarded the National Excellence in Public Health Award. Schuchat has made vital contributions to preventing infectious diseases in children. She led the development of CDC′s guidelines on perinatal group B streptococcal disease, which resulted in an 80 percent reduction in newborn infections and a 75 percent narrowing of racial disparities among sufferers. She previously worked in West Africa on meningitis vaccine studies, South Africa on surveillance and prevention projects, and China on SARS emergency response.

Sylvia Pirani, director of the Office of Public Health Practice within the New York State Department of Health, received the State Excellence in Public Health Award. Pirani has been a driving force behind the New York State Prevention Agenda 2013-2017, the five-year state health improvement plan to make New York the healthiest state in the nation, and was instrumental to assembling a large network of partners across the state to improve understanding of the social determinants of health and promote the Health in All Policies approach.

José T. Montero, vice president of population health and health systems integration at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene, is the 2015 McCormack Award winner. Established in 1950 to honor Arthur T. McCormack, a Kentucky state health official, the McCormack Award is presented each year to a current or former public health official who has served for at least 10 years, been a chief state health official for at least five years, demonstrated excellence, and made a significant contribution to the knowledge and practice of the field. From 2008 to 2015, Montero was the public health director at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health Services, and served as ASTHO president from 2012-2013. He is a leader in developing population health at the national level and integrating public health and healthcare to improve population health outcomes.

The Noble J. Swearingen Award was awarded to Guthrie S. Birkhead, deputy director of New York State Department of Health. Since 1979, the Swearingen Award, named for a former ASTHO executive director, has been bestowed on one individual in public health administration who has five or more years of experience in a state health agency, and five or more years in service to the ASTHO Senior Deputies Committee or in some other capacity. Birkhead is a communicable disease epidemiology specialist whose work in New York includes directing the Center for Community Health, AIDS Institute, Center for Environmental Health, Wadsworth Center Laboratory, Office of Public Health Practice, Office of Health Emergency Preparedness, and Office of Public Health Informatics and Project Management.

The Presidential Meritorious Service Award is given by the ASTHO president to honor a health leader who has made outstanding contributions to ASTHO and state public health. This year, ASTHO President Jewel Mullen recognized Joycelyn Elders, the sixteenth Surgeon General of the United States. Elders was the first African American and second woman to head the U.S. Public Health Service. Elders grew up in a rural, segregated, poverty-stricken pocket of Arkansas before becoming the first person in Arkansas to be board-certified in pediatric endocrinology. She is a professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and remains active in public health education.

ASTHO’s Alumni Award is presented to a former chief state health official who has demonstrated his or her continued commitment to public health. This year’s Alumni Award winner is Bob Harmon, a physician executive at Cerner Corporation and director of the Missouri Department of Health from 1986 to 1990. Harmon has authored more than 70 publications dealing with health information technology, quality improvement, managed care, primary care, public health administration, and health policy.

ASTHO in honored to recognize these public health leaders for their dedication and service to improving health and wellness.


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. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in state-based public health practice.