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Nebraskans recognized as defenders of public health with inaugural award

2022 Nebraska Public Health Defender Award recipients

Ashlei Spivey and Ashley Carroll recognized as 2022 Nebraska Public Health Defender Award recipients. Ashlei Spivey and Ashley Carroll pictured with Dr. Magda Peck, co-founder of UNMC's College of Public Health. Ashley Carroll (left), Dr. Magda Peck (center), Ashlei Spivey (right).

Two Nebraskans have been recognized with the 2022 Public Health Defender Award.

The award, in its inaugural year, recognizes rising public health practice leaders who exemplify an unwavering commitment to health equity and social justice, and have spoken truth to power. Through demonstrated leadership, they are creating conditions for all communities to be healthy and thrive.

The Nebraska Public Health Defender Award is in honor of Dr. Magda Peck and Dr. James Anderson, who championed and defended the public’s health in Nebraska for over 20 years.  Drs. Anderson and Peck were co-founders of the UNMC College of Public Health and are recognized as helping form the public health system in the state. Dr. Anderson was the inaugural Chair of UNMC’s Department of Preventive and Societal Medicine, a foundation for the College of Public Health. Dr. Peck, Founder and former CEO of CityMatCH,  co-created and directed the state’s first MPH Program and Great Plains Leadership Institute, and served as the COPH’s first Associate Dean of Practice and Community Engagement.

In April, Ashlei Spivey and Ashley Carroll were recognized at the 2022 Nebraska Public Health Conference in Lincoln as this year’s recipients.

Recipients of this award exemplify the following leadership attributes:

  • Perseverance. Recipients do not stop in the face of obstacles or barriers to creating the conditions for their community to be healthy. Instead—again and again—they create a path forward others can follow.
  • Innovation. Recipients are creative and resourceful, using all opportunities to make the case for health and well-being for the populations they serve.
  • Focus on Equity. Recipients demonstrate a commitment to and deep belief in the need for equitable outcomes across this great State. They demand a focus on addressing all determinants of health, supporting all populations, and eliminating health inequities.
  • Moral Courage. Recipients sound the bell when others cannot or will not. They demonstrate true leadership in the face of opposition. They don’t back down when things are difficult and the road ahead seems bleak. They are willing to act upon their values, and confront unethical and unequitable behaviors. They do this, despite the risks to reputation and livelihood.

One person who nominated Ashley Carroll said, in everything she does, Ashley sees opportunity to improve and is able to rally people toward action. Her ability to navigate the complexity, pivot around numerous roadblocks and continue to move work forward is inspiring.

One example of Ashley’s perseverance… She was first told “no” to the idea of the Pathways Community Hub model, an innovative, evidence-based pay-for-outcomes model in which community health workers coordinate care for individuals and connect them to resources to meet their health and social needs. Although it would have been easy to move on after the “no”, Ashley urged partners to explore the model because she had the vision of how it could leverage and strengthen various efforts already underway. Due to the relationships she previously built, partners quickly came to the table and committed $1 million to fund this work, starting with a focus on maternal health equity. Ashley’s perseverance has led to an opportunity to fundamentally change the system by which we address patient social needs in our community.

Ashley is constantly challenging the status quo with optimism, purpose and passion. Not only does she advocate for change but she has an incredible talent to bring people together, identify opportunities, and incite action. She is successful for many reasons, but most importantly, her relentless pursuit of something she knows to be critical in order to better serve our patients and communities.

In the nomination for Ashlei Spivey, her nominator said, Ashlei Spivey is an ecosystem builder, philanthropist, and social entrepreneur who is known nationally as the founder of I Be Black Girl- an organization with an unapologetic commitment to health equity, liberation, and justice for Black women, femmes, and girls in Nebraska.

One example of Ashlei’s perseverance…. In 2020, she saw a need for local leadership in addressing health equity for Black mothers and birthing people. She adjusted the focus of I Be Black Girl’s advocacy work to incorporate Black maternal health, and invited partners with expertise in public health, research, birth work and communications to collaborate. Ashlei has established the Nebraska Black Birth Equity Coalition and the Nebraska Reproductive Justice Coalition to bring together healthcare systems, nonprofits, and community organizations to work together towards health equity.

Ashlei’s belief that “No Black mother should be faced with the fear that their race could dictate the quality of care and information they receive” has informed her relentless pursuit for systems change.

Ashlei continuously shows up with contagious authenticity.  Public health work is not easy and Ashlei’s perseverance in seeking partnerships and funding and being an advocate for Black birthing people and birth workers has been amazing to observe. 

In total, six nominations were made for the award.

Recipients of the Award received:

  • $2,500 Cash Prize
  • Complimentary executive leadership coaching sessions with Dr. Magda Peck.

Award Eligibility:

  • Early and mid-career professionals
    • Minimum 5 years in public health.
    • Maximum 25 years in public health.
  • Specific examples of perseverance, innovation, focus on equity, and moral courage.
  • Documented outstanding accomplishments that lead to improved health, safety and wellbeing; prevent disease and disability; and/or advance the mission of public health for populations in Nebraska.

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