Skip to Content

AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Profile of Jim Koval, Family Preparedness Coordinator

Intro: Who do you go to in times of emergencies? Meet Jim Koval, longtime CareerConnect mentor and Family Preparedness Coordinator & Local Liaison for the state of Michigan.

The Story: For the past nine years I have worked in the field of public health in the state health department in Michigan. I have been in the Office of Public Health Preparedness (OPHP) in the Michigan Department of Community Health since 2003. My job title is Family Preparedness Coordinator & Local Liaison. I serve as the liaison between OPHP and Michigan's 45 local health departments. I also maintain the family preparedness function and evidentiary document library for the office. This library contains paper and electronic records demonstrating compliance with the requirements of the federal cooperative agreements that fund our office and many other preparedness programs in Michigan.

Our Office of Public Health Preparedness is responsible for administering the two federal cooperative agreements that fund emergency preparedness functions for public health and health care. The state retains less than twenty percent of the funds, with over eighty percent going to local and regional partners. OPHP also manages the Community Health Emergency Coordination Center (CHECC). This facility is the hub of public health emergency response coordination for the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Typically, my job involves a lot of work with a personal computer. In a given day, I am handling e-mail correspondence between local health departments and OPHP, drafting reports, tracking progress of local health departments with the requirements of the cooperative agreement, and researching public health issues on the Internet. In times of emergency, like the current novel influenza A (H1N1) outbreak, I have been responsible for providing up-to-date information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the Michigan Department of Community Health executive group in our emergency coordination center. There is also some telephone work involved with these tasks.

During my time at OPHP, I have given training courses and presentations both in classroom settings and online. These courses usually involve a PowerPoint presentation, lecture, and discussion.

For the past three years, I have been coordinating the work of the Michigan Public Health Week Partnership. This Partnership is made up of the Michigan Department of Community Health, Association for Local Public Health, Public Health Institute, Public Health Association, Michigan State University, University of Michigan School of Public Health, and Wayne State University. This group puts on an annual media event at the state capitol highlighting public health. The Partnership sponsors the annual Hometown Health Hero awards as part of this event. The planning and execution of the event takes place from November through April and is a high profile event involving state legislators and heads of the Partnership, including the Director of the Michigan Department of Community Health. Laying the groundwork for this event involves leading planning meetings on a weekly basis and preparing for those meetings. It is my responsibility to coordinate the work of the planning team to assure the event is a success.

The employees at OPHP are very dedicated to the health and safety of the citizens of Michigan. The work we do in this office, and all of public health, has direct and tangible benefits for people in this state. Our office is racially and ethnically diverse, has a 2:1 female to male ratio with about 30 total employees, with ages ranging from late twenties to late fifties. However, I am the only person with a disability in the office. Unlike the average state employee who works 40 hours a week, OPHP employees not only work their 40 hours, but are also on call 24/7 365 days a year in case of an emergency. The recent swine flu outbreak is an example of such an emergency. When the CHECC is activated, OPHP staff may be working weekends and even night shifts.

I received my start in public health through the usual selection process in state government. I looked at the postings on the civil service vacancy postings web page, found a job I was interested in, and was hired to work in the Cancer Prevention and Control Section of the Michigan Department of Community Health. However, my coming to OPHP is a story in itself.

In late 2002, then Governor John Engler was forced to make some large budget cuts in order to balance the state budget. This included several line items in the public health budget. The Cancer Section manager was going to have to eliminate three positions: two were vacant, but the third position would involve letting someone go. We had several people in the office who had less than four years of seniority and none of them had enough seniority to bump them to another state government position. Whatever position was going to be eliminated would involve someone losing their job. Having experienced unemployment for a 16-month period myself, I did not wish that on anyone. Knowing I was one of the more senior employees in my job classification and confident that I had enough seniority to be bumped to another position within the department, I sent a letter to my manager proposing that she eliminate my position. The Cancer Section manager took my proposal to her division director and the two of them accepted it. They found that OPHP—a brand new office in the department—had an opening, and OPHP management thought the skill set I brought would help them in their mission. So in February 2003, I moved from the Cancer Section to OPHP and I have been working here ever since.

My current job fits into a career in public health that began in 2000 following graduation from Western Michigan University with a Master's degree in Public Administration (Health Administration concentration). Prior to 2000, I worked in the Bureau of Health Professions in the section that regulates licensure of health professionals. My career as a state employee began in December of 1994 and each job brought with it a set of learned skills that helped prepare me for each subsequent position, including my current one.

The accommodation that I cannot do without is my set of Feinbloom telescopic lenses. I use a custom design created by my low vision specialist in 1987. The design has the scope in the left lens mounted in the lower right quadrant of the carrier lens and pointed down at an angle. The right hand scope is mounted in the upper left quadrant of the carrier lens and pointed straight out (the usual placement). This allows me to work at my desk and give presentations while holding my head in a normal position. These telescopic lenses allow me to read almost anything. Each scope is also adjustable, so I can focus on things at differing distances. Without these lenses, I would be unable to perform my job unless I employed other assistive technology. With my telescopic lenses, I don't have to.

I also use a large monitor for the computer (21-inch). I have the monitor setting on the computer (a desktop model and not a mini tower) so that it is at eye level.

I would say the most satisfying parts of my job are the emergency response work, trainings and presentations, and the Michigan Public Health Week Partnership. The part I like the least is filing documents. Creating the system to organize and catalog the records is OK, it can be satisfying, but filing gets tedious.

Someone considering a career in public health needs to know that they are going to have to obtain a Master's degree education level. This could be a Master's in Public Health (MPH) or a Master's in Public Administration (MPA) like I obtained. The field of public health is a fascinating and rewarding occupational field to work in. Public health impacts people's lives all the time. Interestingly, when successful, public health is also largely invisible to the public.

More broadly, a career anywhere in government service (either federal or state) is also a rewarding career. The federal government offers competitive pay and very good benefits. Many states also have good pay and benefits. However, keep in mind that state budgets are much tighter than federal budgets, so although there may be less opportunities, you will definitely earn your pay by having more than enough work to do.

The Contact: Jim Koval

To learn more about Public Health, visit the This Is Public Health campaign.

services icon Directory of Services

book icon Featured Book

Health Care ProfessionalsWho Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Health Care Professionals

Support Our Work

Your support helps connect young people with mentors in their chosen field—moving them one step closer to success.