In his field of public health, Clay Goddard believes a good day is when nothing happens.
As director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, he says the agency’s role is largely prevention activities: restaurant inspections, disease surveillance and vaccinations.
“Public health is often called the invisible blanket of protection in a community,” he says. “But in recent years, our role has become even more forward-looking, not just focused on immediate prevention, but more broad, systemic efforts to combat chronic illnesses like lung disease and obesity.”
Goddard has worked in public health for more than 21 years, serving as assistant director at the local health department for more than a decade before being promoted in 2017 to the top role. During his career, he says there have been dramatic changes in both the services provided and how the public health field serves the community.
He sees the new vision for public health as “chief health strategist,” which calls for effective and efficient strategy around core functions, as well as acting as a collaborator around larger health issues that require a team approach. A community mental health and substance abuse assessment, released by the health department in April, along with its partnership in the Healthy Living Alliance, are examples of the agency leading the charge for change in the industry, he says.
“This new industry vision of public health is maybe my most favorite, because it is likely where we can make the most impact,” he says.
While noting he happily works behind the scenes and tries to avoid the spotlight, Goddard says he’s getting out of his comfort zone more as a way to promote his department and the staff he describes as “passionate, capable and pioneering.”
Katie Towns, the assistant director of health, says Goddard has high standards and expectations for his co-workers.
“Clay is an exceptional leader in both his strength and vulnerability,” she says, adding he acknowledges his weaknesses and isn’t too proud to admit when he’s wrong. “He pushes us to do our absolute best for the community we serve, but does so with empathy and understanding.”
Goddard credits Harold Bengsch and Kevin Gipson, both former directors at the health department, as mentors who have helped him in his career. Each had a keen understanding for the department’s unique role in the health care landscape, he says.
“Our heritage is to be a convener and to serve as Switzerland where issues can be vetted and solutions created,” Goddard says. “We achieve this by being good listeners, by gathering evidence, by adopting best practices and by being unafraid to be bold and take on tough issues.”
A veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, Goddard says he’s a big believer in community service. He’s currently president of the Missouri Center for Public Health Excellence, an organization comprised of the largest health departments in the state. In addition, he serves on the board of directors for the Community Partnership of the Ozarks Inc., Jordan Valley Community Health Center and Burrell Behavioral Health, as well as the community advisory council for the Missouri Foundation for Health.
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