Billi Odegaard Public Health Genius Award
2013 Genius Award Winners
Lifetime Excellence: Mary Lou Hennrich
Mary Lou recently retired after 12 years as executive director
of the Oregon Public Health Institute. Beginning her career as a public health nurse, Mary Lou has worked for more than 40 years to improve the health of Oregonians. Along with numerous other feats, she helped create school-based health care centers, developed CareOregon into the leading Medicare provider in the state, and fought for healthy food and physical education standards for Oregon’s students. With Mary Lou’s leadership, OPHI championed efforts to prevent childhood obesity, shape public health legislation, and support municipalities in planning future development with an eye toward health equity. Mary Lou is particularly gifted at inspiring others, gathering support for an idea through collaboration, and serving as a mentor to numerous colleagues. She has worked above and beyond the call of duty, is deeply committed to serving the underserved, and provides a voice for vulnerable populations. Learn more about Mary Lou’s decorated career here.
Emerging Leader: Wilber Ramirez-Rodriguez, RDH, BSDH, EPDH
A dentist in his native country of Peru, Wilber moved to Oregon and became a dental hygienist to provide oral care to underserved communities and focus on public health. Wilber is a faculty member at the Pacific University Dental Health Science Program, where he manages the “Smile Care Everywhere” program. He also works with students at the Interdisciplinary Diabetes Clinic, to provide dental hygiene services to underserved patients in Oregon while teaching the students about their roles in supporting public health. Wilber is also a promotoré for Providence Health Services and provides oral health training for other promotorés. Wilber also created Dental Reach, a dental program that partners with Tuality Healthcare ¡Salud! Services to provide preventive oral health care to over 400 migrant and seasonal vineyard and winery workers. Throughout his career, he has partnered with several other local, national and international organizations to continue to spread his knowledge, dedication and passion for providing oral health care for underserved communities.
The Oregon Health Equity Alliance (OHEA) is a partnership that includes APANO (Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon), Oregon Latino Health Coalition, Oregon Action, Center for Intercultural Organizing, Urban League of Portland, and Causa Oregon. Formed in 2012, OHEA aims to create a strong coalition to build awareness and political power to address the root causes of health disparities in Portland and statewide. OHEA focuses on access to higher education and employment to help people climb out of poverty, as well as access to culturally competent quality health care.
OHEA advocated for seven legislative priorities during the 2013 legislative session, including cultural competency in health related professions, health equity data-collection, pre-natal care for all women, tuition equity for college students, driver’s license for all Oregonians, traditional health care workers commission and natural hair-care. All seven priorities passed because of the group’s commitment, strategic planning, strong citizen lobbying, and key partnerships with Oregon legislators, public agencies, and foundations. Many agree that this was by far the most successful legislative session to advance the goals of reducing health disparities in Oregon.