Q&A with Paul Allwood, New Assistant Commissioner at MDH


PaulAllwoodRecently named assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), Paul Allwood oversees infectious disease, environmental health and the public health laboratory.

Allwood has served in a variety of public health roles throughout his career, most recently as director of Occupational Health and Safety at the University of Minnesota. He has a PhD and Master of Public Health in environmental health and a Bachelor of Science in public health and life science from the University of Minnesota.

Below are his responses to questions from MNAAP regarding his new role and responsibilities.

MNAAP successfully advocated for indefinite storage of blood spots and test results. How has this change impacted the newborn screening laboratory?
Many of the disorders that can be detected by newborn screening are rare, making it challenging to accumulate the quantities of test data and confirmed positive specimens needed to support the improvement of existing tests and the implementation of new tests. Indefinite storage of blood spots and test results is tremendously helpful toward building the solid knowledge foundation that ultimately enables lives to be saved and medical outcomes greatly improved.

MDH recently instituted year round testing on hospitalized patients with clinical suspicion of influenza. What prompted this change? What kind of impact might this have on the next flu season?
MDH wants to raise awareness with clinicians that influenza circulates year-round. Activity levels are typically low in the summer months; however, it’s very important to identify cases so we can determine what strains are circulating and who is being impacted.

MDH is also concerned about influenza-like illnesses that occur around county and state fairs because we know that this is a way in which novel influenza strains (such as swine influenza) can be introduced into the human population.

Lastly, the more we track influenza, the more we realize that it is an unpredictable disease and high levels of activity are occasionally outside the traditional peak months of December – March. The 2009 pandemic is a great example of this. By moving toward a year-round surveillance program for influenza, we will get a more complete picture of the disease, which will enhance our prevention and control efforts.

Water quality and access have become a national concern. Minnesota with its wealth of surface water also has increasing concerns about the quality of public drinking water and well water. What are your short- and long-term priorities for protecting drinking water supplies for MN children and families?
Our current and long-term priorities for protecting drinking water supplies for MN children and families include ensuring that water provided by public drinking water systems is safe to drink, understanding and working with our state and local partners to address and communicate risks to people and to public and private drinking water supplies, and assisting in protection of sources of drinking water.

Other short-term priorities include providing assistance to deal with existing drinking water contamination issues, ensuring adequate funding and resources for public and private drinking water protection and safety, and working to better understand and improve health equity issues related to drinking water.

The Minnesota state legislature recently approved pharmacies as a delivery site for some child/teen immunizations. How will MDH ensure that the state MIIC (Minnesota Immunization Information Connection -MDH) system includes up-to-date data on immunizations delivered at pharmacies?
Vaccination is one of the most important Public Health safeguards. Many pharmacies had been already successfully reporting immunizations to MIIC. The new statutory language requires pharmacists to report all administered vaccine doses to MIIC.

MDH will provide training and technical assistance to help pharmacists access MIIC for reporting and patient assessments purposes. Information and direction for participating in MIIC is available on the MDH website. In addition, we will host a webinar in September on participating in MIIC. Finally, we are adding human and technological resources to ensure that MIIC remains a stable and reliable source of immunization information for providers and the public.

You’ve served in a variety of public health roles throughout your career. What are you most excited to help change or improve in your new role as assistant commissioner?
There is exciting work going on at MDH to create partnerships and engage communities in more effective ways. The agency recognizes the enormous value of ensuring that communities are directly involved in making decisions about their health. We are also aware that traditional approaches to community engagement have not enabled us to connect with certain segments of the population, including groups who suffer greater disparities in health. I plan to be on the forefront of our efforts to find more effective ways for connecting with all part of the community, and all community groups. This means pursuing and promoting reform and transformation in the way we do business at the MDH in order to become more open and welcome to public input. We are making progress in this area. For example, MDH engaged non-traditional community partners in responding Ebola last year. The partnerships gave the community an opportunity help shape MDH strategy, and express concerns as needed. This resulted in a trusting and supportive relationship, and is largely credited for the success of our monitoring efforts. This type of engagement must be expanded to cover our work in other parts of the agency. I am delighted to have the opportunity to promote and encourage this expansion.

What is one fact or resource provided by MDH’s Health Protection Bureau that you wish every pediatrician in Minnesota knew about?
The Newborn Screening Program wishes all pediatricians in Minnesota knew about our new infographic, which shows the process of newborn screening and clearly defines parental options after newborn screening is complete.

Annual Sponsors

Children's Minnesota
Gillette Children's
Hennepin Healthcare
University of Minnesota Health
Essentia Health
Mayo Clinic
Shriners Healthcare for Children-Twin Cities