Marylou Sudders has been Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services since 2015. Trained as a social worker, she has addressed public health problems throughout her career as a public official, private non-profit executive, advocate and college professor. Encouraging collaboration among diverse stakeholders, she has been involved in improving care and outcomes in response to the opioid crisis. Patient Safety Beat talked with her about the Massachusetts Sepsis Consortium and learned that her commitment to the issue is fueled both by professional interest and personal experience.
Betsy Lehman Center: What lessons have you learned in raising awareness of other public health problems, such as the opioid epidemic, that might be applied to efforts to stem sepsis?
Secretary Sudders: As a professional social worker, I believe public health issues are best addressed working with a broad group of individuals with different perspectives who share a common vision of tackling seemingly intractable or vexing health problems. As an example, as chair of Governor Baker’s Working Group on Opioids, I had the privilege of working with 18 individuals with divergent backgrounds and expertise, ranging from family members to clinicians to judges. They held strong convictions regarding the opioid epidemic and potential solutions. Together, we reviewed the professional literature and available data, held listening sessions across the Commonwealth to hear the heartache and hope of more than 1,100 individuals, and convened panels of experts on particular topics. The Governor’s charge was to disrupt the status quo and to deliver a plan in three months. The Action Plan adopted a public health strategy of prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery and identified 65 specific recommendations, many of which are being implemented. The result of the Working Group’s effort is that for the first time in years, the state has had a slight decrease in opioid related deaths.
Although a person dies every two minutes in the U.S. from sepsis, it remains not well understood by most people. By creating a broad coalition and developing a multisector collaborative approach, the Massachusetts Sepsis Consortium goal of increasing public awareness about the signs and symptoms of sepsis should result in saving lives. Given the complex nature of sepsis and the fact that this disease knows no social or economic boundaries, no single group can address this health issue alone.