For more information on how to become a CPHA PHN Section member or a panelist at an upcoming Pulse Check please email Dawn James @ [email protected] or Ann Scarpita @ [email protected]



Public Health Nursing in a Pandemic

Public health nursing has a long and rich history that paints a story of resilience, advocacy, and  compassionate care centered on prevention of illness for individuals, families and communities across the nation. Public health nurses (PHNs) experience many of the same challenges in 2020 as Lillian Wald and her peers did in 1890. Like those pioneering nurses, PHNs in Colorado are charged with addressing a new pandemic, while monitoring diseases and actively engaging in direct services.

Coronavirus (COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2) is one of the greatest challenges that public health has experienced. PHNs across the state have accepted that challenge, and have again demonstrated amazing resilience and depth. In March of 2020, local public health departments responded by adapting how public health services were delivered. Changes included offering services via telehealth when Stay at Home orders were implemented. Clinical services have been drastically reduced and altered to safely address the public health emergency. Programs managed by and staffed with public health nurses were re-designed and re-imagined so that core services could continue. One example is how sexual health programs have continued to provide crucial access to birth control and screening services. This has been accomplished with an innovative blending of staff who work remotely in coordination with clinical staff available for office appointments. Immunization services including the administration of vaccines, in safe, clinical settings, continues to be a priority for public health nurses as flu season approaches and in the expected event of a COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, nurse home visitation programs, managed and led by PHNs, swiftly shifted their in-person, intensive nursing assessments to electronic telehealth platforms. These are only a few examples of how public health nurses and our nursing partners in the education system are facing this pandemic with actions demonstrating the depth of their nursing  training, education, and experience.  

Local public health departments, both rural and urban, continue to face the challenges of balancing essential direct services with new roles created by the requirements of COVID-19 response. PHNs, through education and training, possess the ideal set of skills required for many response roles, such as incident command leaders, case investigators, staffing COVID-19 call centers, and providing case management for individuals needing resources and referrals. Nursing professionals are prepared to assess the multiple levels of impact the pandemic has on individuals and the community. Many rural PHNs find themselves assuming numerous roles in their counties’ responses to COVID-19 in addition to the demands of the essential services they regularly provide. The burden on rural PHNs is significant, as too often they are one of few PHNs in the county. Large health departments are faced with balancing community contracts and grants, while addressing the acute needs of COVID response. This results in a decrease in staff available to fulfill non-COVID-19 obligations. In all scenarios, agencies are tasked with managing community COVID-19 requirements in addition to providing a safe work environment for employees.

The pandemic has demonstrated the resiliency, expertise, and versatility of Colorado’s public health nurses. However, as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to demand more PHN time and effort, there is increasing concern about the capacity to deliver timely preventive health services such as childhood immunizations, sexual health services, and support for undeserved communities. There is

increasing apprehension about state and local government budget cuts. As public health nurses step up to meet the increased demands brought on by the pandemic, the possibility of burn-out due to the increased workload is worrisome and real.

Public health nurses are passionate about serving communities, and most feel fortunate to be able to help people across the continuum of individual and community health. The field of public health nursing offers the opportunity to work on community initiatives, collaborate with local agencies, and still provide the direct human touch that initially draws many into nursing. Unfortunately, budget cuts place undue stress on the PHN who is already working with minimal funding. Public health cannot afford to burn out the workforce needed to protect our communities.

This is a call to advocate for public health nursing, and to support those working in the trenches of COVID-19 screening, investigations, and reporting, while maintaining essential public health functions. The first ask is for community partners and decision makers to provide the flexibility, understanding, reflection, and advocacy this profession needs to navigate these challenging days.

Next, policy makers can help by ensuring access to personal protective equipment, testing supplies, case investigations, trained staff, technical assistance, and funding for training. Each is critical for protecting public health nurses and community members. Additionally, it is essential to maintain a strong public health infrastructure that includes a diverse pool of professional nurses. Public health is part of the  spectrum of health care and PHNs are experts in their field. Finally, policy makers can assure adequate  and sustainable funding that supports a multilevel approach to public health that includes pandemics  and essential public health services delivered by PHNs and their partners in school nursing. School  nurses are another type of public health nurse who, with innovative policy and collaboration, cooperation, and communication, function alongside their local public health partners.

In conclusion, during the COVID-19 pandemic, public health nurses have once again been a crucial part of history in front line care and decision making. PHNs have faced COVID-19 with grace, compassion, professionalism and innovation, and will continue to be essential when a vaccine becomes available.  PHNs will be at the table to discuss vaccine messaging for communities and strategic planning for safe  and equitable distribution. When a viable vaccine is available, the hands of a PHN will be one of the very  human touches that delivers it.

Mary Doran, BSN, RN
2020-2021 PHN Section Chair, Colorado Public Health Association

Kimberly Boyd, RN, NP, ND
2019-2021 President, Colorado Public Health Association


Colorado Public Health Nurse Section Leadership Opportunities

CPHA PHN Section Workgroup Leaders-- several volunteer positions are available!
Email Dawn James at [email protected] or Ann Scarpita at [email protected] if you are interested in leading a PHN workgroup. PHN Workgroups include: PHN Promotion, PHN Membership and PHN Fundraising.

PHN Current Events

CPH PHN meetings are held the third Friday of every month. 
Email Dawn James at [email protected] or Ann Scarpita at [email protected] with requests and questions about the monthly meetings. 

Email CPHA PHN Section Director, Dawn James [email protected], to become a CPHA PHN Section Sponsor!

Sponsorships start at $100


History of Colorado’s Public Health Nurses’ Organization - Public Health Nurses Association of Colorado (PHNAC) 

1977-1978: Norma Rogers of Elbert County was elected as the first president of the Colorado County Nurses Association (CCNA)

1981-1982: CCNA became actively involved in pending legislation

1982-1983: Award established by CCNA to recognize outstanding commitment by a rural public health nurse

November 25, 1991: Incorporation as Colorado Counties Nurses Association in Craig, CO

March 2, 2000: The membership of CCNA unanimously voted to become the Public Health Nurses Association of Colorado, adopting by-laws, setting up committees, and planning executive meetings to implement the change.

September, 2009: PHNAC adopted a project by Regional Institute of Health and Environmental Leadership (RIHEL) to establish the Practice Council. It includes 15 diverse members who represented  all of the EPR 9-hazard regions, Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence, CDPHE, Colorado Nurses Association, and academia, as well as four workgroups (PHN competencies, Practice and Advocacy, Practice and Research, Support and Development).

2010: Established the Practice Council.

2018: Became an official co-host for LIFE (Leadership Is For Everyone) annual conference. The membership voted to become a part of Colorado Public Health Association. PHNAC closed its organization after 12/31/2018.


Past Awards for Public Health Nurses 

List of past award recipients: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 20172018

Exemplary Frontier Public Health NurseAward: recognized a Public Health Nurse who has demonstrated exemplary service in a local public health agency located in a Colorado rural/frontier community.

General Recognition

Lillian Wald Award: Lillian D. Wald (1867–1940) was a nurse, social worker, public health official, teacher, author, editor, publisher, women’s rights activist, and the founder of American community nursing. Her unselfish devotion to humanity is recognized around the world and her visionary programs have been widely copied everywhere.

The Lillian Wald Award was given to a public health nurse who demonstrates leadership skills among peers and community; has practiced a minimum of 5 years; and is creative, resourceful and innovative in addressing public health concerns in the community. This person is caring in relationships with colleagues and clients, and initiates, implements and evaluates public health interventions that focus on health promotion and disease prevention, and shares public health knowledge with colleagues and the community.

New Public Health Nurse of the Year Award: was given to a public health nurse with less than 5 years of practice in a public health capacity who demonstrates the ability to establish community partnerships that result in improved utilization of public health programs and/or services.

PHNAC Award for Excellence: was presented to a public health nurse who has made outstanding contributions in the field of public health and public health nursing over a period of several years and has demonstrated exemplary leadership and service to take public health nursing into the future. The nominee must be a leader, a member of PHNAC, and may hold a leadership role in his/her agency.

The Most Innovative Project Award: was given in recognition of an innovative, outstanding and adaptable project developed or implemented by a local health agency in addressing a public health issue in the community.