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WellSpan public health advocate wins Spirit of YoCo Award

October 09, 2020

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WellSpan public health advocate wins Spirit of YoCo Award

Matt Howie, M.D., wears many hats.

He is a WellSpan primary care physician who serves as the medical director of the York City Bureau of Health.

He is York County's chief health strategist, helping to determine community health priorities such as COVID, opioid use disorder and behavioral health issues that lead to incarceration.

He is a board member of the York Opioid Collaborative.

For his contributions to the health of the York community, particularly during the COVID pandemic, Howie has received a Spirit of YoCo Award from the York County Economic Alliance, as the Non-Profit/Government Employee of the Year.

"We are fortunate to have a wealth of knowledge in Dr. Matt Howie," said York County Economic Alliance president and CEO Kevin Schreiber. "He has led our county and city in navigating an unprecedented pandemic, and done so with intelligence, grace and calmness. He is always willing to work together on developing a healthy community, and especially now, in helping to educate safety measures across all platforms."

Howie's York city and county colleagues say he brings a public health perspective to his work, helping patients on an individual level while also looking at how organizations can work together to elevate everyone’s health.

Howie always has had an interest in the health of communities. He did rotation at a public health program in Maryland during medical school and, after completing the Family Medicine Residency at WellSpan York Hospital, cared for Native Americans on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona for several years. He also has worked in primary care, caring for vulnerable patients, at WellSpan.

"When you work in public health, you look at what is causing harm," Howie said. "And when you look at that, you see what is challenging us as a community. We have a level of health disparities – different groups are being impacted more by certain problems – and that really jumps out at you. You can't see that and not do something about it."

It's a perspective he has brought to issues such as maternal child health, sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, opioid use disorder and, most recently, COVID.

When the pandemic hit, Howie worked with city officials in providing medical guidance, documentation and data collection. He worked with York County Commissioners and the County Emergency Management office, unifying efforts geared toward populations as varied as prison inmates and nursing home residents.

"He's methodical but tries to look at creative ways to approach the situation," said Barbara Kovacs, York City Bureau of Health director. "He helps us to think outside the box of how we can do things differently,"

His background as a family physician informs his work, she said.

"He listens to people and their concerns and ideas," Kovacs said. "In meetings, he reflects on where people are coming from. He wants to do something to help the situation or the person."

Monica Kruger sees this in Howie’s work with patients and staff at the York City Bureau of Health clinic. Howie is down-to-earth and has a good sense of humor – sprinkling conversation with quotes from Monty Python and “The Princess Bride” movie – while always keeping his focus on the care.

"He builds rapport and relationships first," said Kruger, clinic program manager. "Patients trust him. These are people who have often been through the wringer and are at a loss. He engages with other providers and specialists, pulling on their areas of expertise to best help patients and inform how we may address different public health concerns."

Clinic patients perhaps best summarize the qualities that make Howie a valued member of the York medical community.

"They tell us, 'I knew that I would get honest information from Dr. Howie and I knew he was there to take care of me and listen to me,'" Kruger said. "Those are real things."