Elbert "Al" Austin, Jr. Career Achievement Award

Elbert "Al" Austin, Jr. Career Achievement Award

To honor a person who remains humble among peers yet towers above the rest in achievements. Al Austin was health cabinet secretary in the 1980’s.
Guidelines: Demonstrates loyalty and perseveres in working to improve public health for all Kentuckians.

2022 Recipient: Sara Robeson
Epidemiologist III
Division of Epidemiology and Health Planning, KDPH

The 2022 recipient has been an incredible asset to Kentucky public health from her start with the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department in 1996 as an Epidemiologist with the HIV/AIDS program through her current role as a leader in the Division of Epidemiology and Health Planning at the Kentucky Department for Public Health, where she has been since 2000.

She is described as having an unwavering dedication for the betterment of public health, as well as the public health workforce. She provides guidance in all aspects of public health and consistently advocates for the use of epidemiological data to make informed decisions.

She has been instrumental in growing the relationship between KDPH and the Kentucky Injury Prevention Research Center (KIPRC) and currently serves as a liaison between the two. She has been a huge supporter of the Environmental Public Health Tracking Network and other data-centric programs and projects within KDPH. She is also a strong supporter of public health education, working closely with others at KDPH to provide Kentucky Public Health Assistance Support Team (KPHAST) trainings for Kentucky college students so that they can assist in outbreak responses.

Like many public health workers, she accepted the call to go above and beyond as part of the COVID-19 pandemic response. She is the type of public health leader we should all aspire to become. She is kind, caring, supportive and always puts others first. She is willing to do everything within her power to make it easier for the rest of us to protect the health of our community.

2021 Recipient: Kraig Humbaugh, MD, MPH
Commissioner of Health
Lexington-Fayette Co Health Department
Nominated by Laura Foley

A board-certified pediatrician, he graduated summa cum laude from Vanderbilt University, was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Otago in New Zealand, obtained his Doctor of Medicine from Yale University School of Medicine, and his Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University. He began public health service as the Interim Director of the Louisville Metro Health Department in 2003. He joined the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) in 2004 as the Director of the Division of Epidemiology and Health Planning and in 2012, also became the Senior Deputy Commissioner of Health for DPH. He continued in both roles until he accepted the role of Commissioner of Health for the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department in 2016. With exceptional analytical and creative skills, he has served these agencies and, indeed, the state of Kentucky well over nearly two decades.

His credibility and consistency have made him in demand by public health organizations, and local and district health departments across the state, by professional organizations such as the Lexington Medical Society, by business organizations including the Chamber of Commerce, and, most of all, by the hundreds of public health professionals who have worked directly with him over the years. The question “What does Dr. Humbaugh think?” has become equivalent with asking “What is the very best information and data related to this public health concern?”. His career achievements are best understood by speaking with those fortunate enough to have worked with him. They will share stories of wonder at his intellect, joy for his kind demeanor, and appreciation for the wonderful way he has of bringing out the best performance in his co-workers and supervisees.

His Executive Assistant, which is privy to his completely booked calendar filled with concurrent meetings says that during the pandemic, despite a seven-day work week, he works without complaint and gives his very best efforts every day. She adds that by working with him, you can’t help but be inspired to be your best and to seek that in others.

Another public health colleague shares this: “Though his expertise and professionalism are unmatched, they are far surpassed by his kindness and patience. My colleagues and I would know - we work in communications and called upon him daily for his assistance in dealing with often trying media inquiries. Though he rarely had five free minutes to spare, he never complained and treated every media outlet, from the New York Times to Kentucky's small weekly newspapers, with the same levels of respect and generosity. I don't recall a time when he failed to answer a question thoughtfully, honestly, and with a deep commitment to keeping the public informed about the issues impacting the health of our communities. He also had a magic way of never letting them push him around without making them mad. If only we could somehow bottle that skill!”

2020 Recipient: Matt Rhodes, MPH
Director of Operations
Louisville Metro Department of Public Health & Wellness

He is described to be "articulate and always having a smile on his face. With his Southern charm and aura of authority; he has the ability to put everyone in the room at ease." One of his peers commented that he "embodies the criteria for this award "humble among peers while towering above the rest in achievements" and "demonstrating loyalty and persevering in working to improve the public health for all Kentuckians." "A true "Southern Gentleman".

Over his 24-year career in public health, this recipient has increased his responsibility from front line staff to supervisor to Deputy Director and Director of Operations – the highest non-physician role in the department. His career started in environmental health and has thrived as he has held virtually every responsibility from sanitarian to lead inspector to Hazmat technician to site assessor. As a food safety inspector, he developed Louisville’s "ABC" food inspection placarding system. He assisted with Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness’s public health transformation in 2017 and assisted Kentucky Health Department Association with policy work advocating for Kentucky’s Public Health Transformation in 2018 and 2019. He served on the State Public Health Commissioner’s Advisory Committee which created public health policy recommendations to state legislators. This work was critical to the creation of HB129 and HB171.

As Director of Operations, he has administrative oversight for the department including human resources and administration, fiscal management, communication, and technology integrations. He also oversees the department’s environmental health and regulatory enforcement responsibilities as well as emergency public health preparedness. In addition to the Kentucky Public Health Association, he is active in other state and national professional associations including the Kentucky Environmental Health Association (KYEHA) and the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA).

He has made an impression on many public health professionals. He has shown himself to truly be dedicated and hard-working public health professional. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated remarkable leadership, and a desire to constantly improve his professional skills by earning certification in multiple different specialty areas. He obtained his Master of Public Health degree in 2018 and he is a Registered Sanitarian, a Certified Lead Inspector, and a Certified Hazmat Technician, among others.

In 2009, he served as Incident Commander for the local H1N1 response. He collaborated with numerous community partners to create a walk-in and drive-through clinic to administer H1N1 vaccinations, setting a world record of 22,000 vaccinations in a day and a half!

He served as Deputy Incident Commander for the Hepatitis A outbreak in 2017-2018. The response in the community under his direction arrested the outbreak in under 12 months and was repeatedly call the "Gold Standard" by many, including officials from the Center for Disease Control.

One public health director noted that "He is the definition of "work hard, play hard". He takes his work seriously but is also a joy to be around. He has the institutional knowledge and understanding of policies and processes to help navigate through the public health system that I have relied on him for his expertise and diplomatic approach to situations many times."

Another public health director wrote, "I have always found this recipient to have extensive knowledge and is renowned as a statewide environmental health subject matter expert who has the practical application experience to lead effectively in this area. His character is defined as trustworthy, dependable, knowledgeable, practical, and considerate with a servant’s heart."

"Our recipient consistently reinforced the purpose of our work and our responsibility as public health professionals. The coworker added "This motto of his "as public health professionals" set the tone and focus for what we do day in and day out. We were here to protect the public, and we set our standards high, as professionals. This is a simple but profound mantra of his, that guides my work today and reminds us all to respect ourselves, respect our colleagues, and respect our work, and deliver the quality of work our community deserves." His wisdom is relied on in various quarters and his leadership will be sorely missed when he retires in July.

Matt Rhodes, Director of Operations for Louisville Metro Public Health & Wellness, is this year’s recipient of the Elbert Al Austin Career Achievement Award.

Past Winners

2019: Not Awarded
2018: Jennifer Hunter, RN, MSN
2017: Douglas B. Thompson, M.D.
2016: Elbert "Al" Austin Jr.
2015: Margaret Jones
2014: Rosie Miklavcic
2013: Larry Davis
2012: Srihari Seshadri
2011: Steve Davis MD
2010: Jim Osborne
2009: Garland VanZant
2008: Stephen Combs
2007: Herman Johnson
2006: Nancy Quarcelino
2004: Robert "Bob" Fritz
2003: Kathy Mefford
2002: Timothy "Tim" Stump
2001: Porter W. Bailey
2000: Lillie Mae Fannin
1999: Rondia Burdine
1998: Flo Pittman BS RHIA
1997: Barbara Patrick
1996: Wayne Adams
1995: Gerald Luttrell
1994: Dudley J. Conner MPH MPA *
1993: Pat Rickard
1992: Patricia Pennington
1991: Mary Pauline Fox MD
1990: Bruce K. Lane MPH
1989: John P. Godfrey JD *
1988: E. "Al" Austin Jr. MPH *