Dr. Alfio Rausa, M.D., a public health hero who worked valiantly for half a century to improve the health of Mississippians, passed away at home after several months of illness on January 3, 2018. Dr. Rausa leaves a legacy of dedication to countless public health and community efforts, including his work at the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH); his work as a family medicine physician; his contributions to the Golden Age Nursing Home; his founding of Life Help, a regional mental health and retardation center; his founding of a youth soccer league; his work as Chairman of the Fannie Lou Hamer Cancer Foundation; and his contributions to many other projects and boards. He is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the 2007 Greenwood Commonwealth Community Service Award and the 1992 Felix J. Underwood Award for public health service.
Dr. Rausa originally came to Greenwood as a Lieutenant Commander with the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a position he held from 1966-1970. Raised in the Bronx, Dr. Rausa’s intention was to stay in Mississippi for a year, but his plans changed when he saw all the work to be done.
“I was having too much fun,” he said (as reported in The Greenwood Commonwealth on January 3, 2018). “My idea was to try to fix the problems.”
In 1970, Dr. Rausa accepted a position as Regional Public Health Officer in Greenwood with MSDH, and in 1980, he was promoted to District Health Officer. At first he was over Public Health District III and then over District I as well, for a total of 18 counties, including some of the poorest in the state. He held this position until last summer when he retired, partly because of the consolidation of offices due to state budget cuts.
As District Health Officer, one of the projects for which Dr. Rausa served as medical consultant was WIC and its breastfeeding peer counselor program. He fully supported this program, always encouraged the peer counselors, and was always willing to speak with other physicians, the media, hospitals, or at events about the benefits of breastfeeding. He emceed CHAMPS’ first conference in Mississippi in 2015, “The Delta Breastfeeding Summit,” and gave opening comments on the importance of breastfeeding.
“Dr. Rausa was one of the greatest champions of breastfeeding in the state,” shares Cathy Carothers, BLA, IBCLC, FILCA, CHAMPS Mississippi Liaison and Trainer. “He was the most can-do person I believe I have ever known, and it is sad that he is no longer with us. I still remember him telling his own stories of how his mother breastfed him and attributing his success to all that breast milk. He always had a smile on his face and offered such encouragement to our peer counselors. We’ve lost a good one!”
Cathy says she especially appreciated how, in the early days when MSDH first began the WIC breastfeeding peer counseling program, he advocated for the program and elevated the role of peer counselors with MSDH staff. At that time, Cathy was a WIC District Breastfeeding Coordinator.
“That was back in the time when it took a bit of a ‘sell job’ for the health departments to come on board…He loved the idea of peer counseling and offered to help smooth the way,” Cathy says.
“What I loved—what we all loved—about Dr. Rausa, was that he was a huge advocate for breastfeeding families,” shares Kendall Cox, BA, IBCLC, who worked with Dr. Rausa as a WIC District Breastfeeding Coordinator between 1995 and 2005. “If you asked him for help making something happen, he went above and beyond. He always showed up. He’d call and tell you about something he’d worked out to help the program that you hadn’t even asked him about! And he wasn’t someone who would go around bragging about all he’d accomplished. He was too busy getting it done! And he was always shining the spotlight on the work we were doing, never worrying about who got credit for what. He was a can-do guy. If something needed fixing, he’d fix it, even if it meant pulling on some overalls between patients and getting underneath a sink with a wrench to fix a leak.”
Freddie White-Johnson, MPPA, President and Founder of the Fannie Lou Hamer Cancer Foundation, where Dr. Rausa served as Chairman until his death, also has fond memories of Dr. Rausa. She knew him since she was 29 years old when she worked for him on a project called Partners for Improved Nutrition and Health and then at MSDH. She shared with CHAMPS the touching story of how, when she prematurely delivered her son weighing only 2 pounds 8 ounces, Dr. Rausa was the reason she breastfed. He explained to her that her baby needed breast milk and told her about pumping and storing her milk. Then, he called and checked on her and her baby every day.
Freddie says, “Dr. Rausa was the most caring person I have ever met and he showed he cared. He gave his all in all and left a light so bright and shining. My favorite saying of his was, ‘If a problem is in the community then the solution is in the community.’ He is going to be a great loss to public health especially in the Delta.”
May we all strive to follow Dr. Rausa’s example and brighten the world with the work we do! Please share your thoughts and memories of Dr. Rausa in the comment field below.
This week’s Champion is particularly special to us at CHEER. Dr. Suzanne Haynes, PhD, who retired from her position as Senior Science Advisor to the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office on Women’s Health (OWH) at the end of December 2017, is a stalwart pioneer and advocate of women’s health and breastfeeding. Suzanne has also been a wonderful colleague to CHEER and its predecessor, the Breastfeeding Center at Boston Medical Center, for over 20 years, and we are honored to have worked with Suzanne on many projects. Suzanne worked for OWH for 23 years, during which she tirelessly promoted and researched issues such as heart disease prevention, breast cancer screening, breastfeeding, the effect of the environment on women and children’s health, adverse childhood experiences and their effect on obesity in women, and opioid use among Native Americans. She received an award from Women’s Day for her work on the Heart Truth Campaign, and during the Clinton Administration, she worked on the National Action Plan on Breast Cancer.
“I’ve always been concerned about health disparities in minority populations,” Suzanne shares regarding her personal motivation to do the work she has. “One of the things that attracted me to breastfeeding was the disparities in breastfeeding in African Americans, half the rates as in Caucasians. Sometimes there are powerful forces in society that push things that people think initially are good for people but in the long run they are not. I’m not afraid to speak up and point out those problems.”
Suzanne held several key breastfeeding leadership roles at the request of the Assistant Secretary of Health during her tenure at OWH. She chaired the HHS Blueprint for Action on Breastfeeding Committee between 1998-2000, which produced the Department’s first comprehensive policy on breastfeeding. She served as Campaign Director for the first National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign, a national, award-winning, social marketing campaign sponsored by OWH and the Advertising Council between 2003-2006, on which the Breastfeeding Center served as a Community Demonstration Project. Suzanne commissioned the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to conduct the well-cited Evidence Report No. 153 that was published in 2007 on Breastfeeding and Maternal and Infant Outcomes in Developed Countries.
Starting in 2007, she participated in the initial stages of the Worksite Support for Breastfeeding project, and helped develop a website to support breastfeeding women and their employers. This website, linked to by the Department of Labor, continues to be a wonderful resource for companies. Joining forces with the Health Resources and Services Administration, Suzanne promoted the Business Case for Breastfeeding through partnerships with 30 state breastfeeding coalitions and with the National Business Group on Health during the last 4 years. She was the Managing Editor of the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding in January 2011. In recognition and appreciation of her tremendous efforts to promote breastfeeding in the United States, Suzanne received the Assistant Secretary for Health’s Award for Superior Service in June 2010. Suzanne received her PhD in epidemiology at the University of North Carolina and has published 100 books and articles in peer-reviewed journals.
Perhaps one of Suzanne’s most exciting projects was the 2003-2006 National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign. Suzanne believes it was this that started the national conversation going and changed the tide for breastfeeding in the United States. Before that, there was formula advertising in the U.S., but “no counter advertising,” Suzanne says. People and groups joined the Campaign from all over the country. 10-15 local organizations went to their news sources to promote the ads, and groups like USDA, WIC, and CDC started doing more to research and promote breastfeeding. Boston Medical Center, where CHEER is housed, led by Dr. Anne Merewood, CHEER’s Director, was one of about 20 implementation sites for the Campaign. They took the Campaign to the local level by reaching out to lactating mothers, providing support, and getting radio and TV stations to display the ads.
“There was a domino effect, a spider effect, it just kept going and going and going. You can see the change in the breastfeeding rates since 2000. It got everybody started. You need something like the Campaign to get change to happen. It usually takes about 20 years for a campaign to see its effect on the long-run, like it was for seat belts and smoking.”
What is next for Suzanne? In retirement, she plans to focus on professional interests as well as family and travel. An active board member of the Calvary County Commission for Women in Maryland, she looks forward to increasing her participation to promote health and policy change on local and national levels.
In closing, Suzanne would like to express her gratitude to the breastfeeding community: “It’s been a great pleasure and honor to work with the breastfeeding community and advocates. I know a lot of the work done is volunteer, and I want to thank everyone tremendously for the efforts you have made to change the face of breastfeeding in the United states. The work that breastfeeding advocates do is wonderful.”
Congratulations, Suzanne, on your inspiring career, and thank YOU for all you have done!
Emily Dotson, B.A., Administrative Assistant with Executive Staff Support for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi (BCBSMS), provides assistance to the Medical Director and the Director of Prescription Drug Management. She recently did an excellent job planning and coordinating the Mississippi CHAMPS Team Meeting and Conference held on September 27 and 28, 2017 on the BCBSMS Campus in Flowood, MS, with the help of the CHAMPS team, especially Rebecca Snow Hartnett!
“Knowing that I’m truly helping someone is what drives me to continue to work hard,” shares Emily, who hopes to enjoy many years at BCBSMS. “What I like most about my job is that it’s something new and different every day!”
BCBSMS is a valuable partner to CHAMPS and a pioneer in its support of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) across the state. Under the leadership of Medical Director Dr. Sarah Broom and with Emily’s assistance, BCBSMS, along with CHAMPS, is promoting Baby-Friendly designation to all BCBSMS Network Hospitals that deliver babies in Mississippi. They have also hosted several conferences geared toward empowering hospital staff to achieve Baby-Friendly designation, and are supporting the BFHI as a member of the Advisory Board of the Mississippi Perinatal Quality Collaborative. Blue Cross & Blue Shield Association’s Blue Distinction® Center+ of Excellence for Maternity Care designation, based on national quality criteria and BCBSMS’s Maternity Quality Model, is granted to facilities meeting top quality, evidence-based criteria such as elimination of elective deliveries before 39 weeks and achievement of Baby-Friendly designation.
The September 28th Mississippi CHAMPS Conference for newly enrolled CHAMPS hospitals was one of several conferences that BCBSMS has graciously hosted for us. Thanks to Emily’s efforts, it was well attended, well organized, and enjoyable, with a delicious lunch and snacks generously provided by BCBSMS. Now several more Mississippi hospitals are signed up with CHAMPS and ready to start their Baby-Friendly journeys!
Emily enjoys spending time with her husband of 4 years, Jeff, and their cat, Gigi. In her free time, she loves to read, play piano, draw, and play video games. She and her husband also enjoy participating in many activities at their church.
Thank you, Emily and BCBSMS! CHAMPS greatly appreciates you!
CHEER Champion of the week
Each week, we will recognize a CHEER Champion for all the work they have done for CHEER (Center for Health Equity, Education, and Research)/CHAMPS (Communities and Hospitals Advancing Maternity Practices).