Virginia State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver, MD, MA, is not a fan of silos. Not the kind that store grain, but the kind that prevent cooperation among diverse community resources. 

“We’ve all been working individually and making only incremental gains,” Dr. Oliver said, addressing the growing challenge of health disparities. “We need to get ourselves aligned and create a common agenda. 

“All communities have assets,” he added, “no matter how disinvested they are.” 

Dr. Oliver was speaking last night to more than 100 guests at Eastern Virginia Medical School during the fifth stop on his statewide listening tour, designed to help determine the focus of public health for Virginia’s future. The event was open to the public and streamed online. 

Noting that 2018 is the 110th anniversary of the Virginia Department of Health, Dr. Oliver reviewed how public health concerns have evolved, from version 1.0 that addressed communicable and infectious diseases; to version 2.0 that tackled chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes; to today’s version 3.0, which is addressing the health inequities through partnerships and collective impact initiatives, such as EVMS Minus 9 to 5

Then for more than an hour, he took questions from both the in-person and virtual audiences. Topics included the opioid crisis, violent crime as a public health issue, childhood obesity and nutrition, gaps in the public-health workforce, the fatal behavioral-health epidemic, veterans’ mental health and suicide, waivers for Virginians with disabilities, state funding for the WIC program, and how clinicians can access community resources to benefit their patients. 

Before being named the state’s top health official June 1 by Gov. Ralph Northam, Dr. Oliver was Deputy Commissioner for Population Health. Prior to that post, he was the Walter M. Seward Professor and Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. 

Dr. Oliver attended medical school at Case Western Reserve University, where he also obtained a master’s degree in medical anthropology. He trained in family medicine at Case and then practiced in rural Alaska for two years before joining UVA in 1998. 

Questions and thoughts related to the future of public health in Virginia can still be submitted to Dr. Oliver here