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DOH Leon Praises the Work of its Disease Intervention Specialists

By Pamela Saulsby

October 11, 2021

DOH Leon Praises the Work of its Disease Intervention Specialists 

DOH Leon Praises the Accomplishments of its Disease Intervention Specialists

October 11, 2021

National Disease Intervention Specialists (DIS) Day was recognized on October 1. The Florida Department of Health in Leon County (DOH Leon) is proud to have some of the finest disease detectives in the state working in its offices and the community. The DIS Unit is led by Program Manager Dale Harrison who has been working in the field of Sexual Transmitted Disease (STD) intervention for 29 years.

Last year, Mr. Harrison and Disease Intervention Specialist Felicia Maddox were recognized for their outstanding work. Harrison was honored with the 2020 Tommy Chandler DIS Excellence Award and Ms. Maddox received the Tommy Chandler Honorary Recognition Award.

The Tommy Chandler DIS Excellence Award is named after a DOH-Duval DIS worker who showed exceptional and sustained excellence in disease intervention. It is the highest award in Florida that recognizes the work of STD DIS staff members.

This kind of recognition proves DIS are the backbone of public health. They wear many hats and take on many roles to protect Leon county residents and visitors. Whether tackling STD prevention, tuberculosis outbreak response, HIV exposure notification, or emergency response – DIS bring a special set of skills and level of dedication matched by few in the field. 

I recently spoke with Program Manager Harrison about the trials and triumphs of working on the frontlines of public health:


Q: How many people work with the DIS team in Leon County?


A:  Currently we have seven staff members in Leon County (including myself).


Q:  Why do you feel it is important to single out and recognize Disease Intervention Specialists? 


AThe Tommy Chandler Excellence Award was established to recognize the extraordinary work of DIS. Therefore, it’s very important to single out the best DIS achievements across the state. This award is a motivational tool which makes each DIS work just that much harder for the upcoming year.


Q:  You work with an award-winning team.  What makes you especially proud to work with these men and women?


A:  It’s amazing what we do as a program. To see the passion a person has for this work is, in a word, astonishing. As a Program Manager, it makes me feel very proud to see a DIS come into the program and exceed in all aspects which include patient care, treatment timelines, partners elicitation, and intervention with case management. In other words, to win this award you must be the best DIS out of 138 highly trained candidates.         


Q:  COVID-19 undoubtedly shifted priorities and resources, yet the work of DIS to prevent other infectious diseases has never stopped.  Say a few things about the challenges you and your team have had to overcome. How has this effected case numbers and transmission rates in Leon County? Did bad situations get worse?


A:  I must say working doing the COVID-19 epidemic was very challenging.  Our program like other programs had to telework. We were not able to interact directly with the patients. It was an unconventional way of operating and made it very difficult to conduct precise and accurate interviews. This is where our expertise came into play.  We had to learn how to interact with the patients over the phone which caused the program to do things very differently. Our cases did decrease for a while due to some providers being closed but we were still able to get patients interviewed and treated for infections through other providers, whose offices were open. The field visits had to stop which was a challenge to those patients who didn’t have accurate telephone numbers. Somehow, we prevailed. We never stop the fight against STD.  We just had to reimagine the mission.   


Q:  What are some of the essential skill sets that those who work in DIS must have in order to be successful in this field of work?


A:  People skills. That’s a big one. It’s fundamental. This skill will open doors for any DIS who wants to be successful. It helps you to communicate not only with the patients but also the providers, which is essential. Also, a successful DIS must have great intuition… the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning. These are skill sets that aren’t taught in trainings, but they will help a DIS to succeed.    


Q:  What are the priorities for you and your team moving forward? 


A:  One priority in STD is to highly train all the new DIS so they can be as successful as all the previous ones. Secondly, we are to concentrate on all syphilis cases, especially congenital cases. This consists of precise and accurate interviews, which we teach new DIS; treatment in an adequate timeline; and partners notification follow ups. Thirdly, we are to educate and work to reduce the prevalence of STDs, especially among high-risk populations.


Q:  Is there anything the community—people reading this article-- can do to help and support the work DIS do?


A:  Personally, I think if community members will Talk, Test and Treat then we can decrease our number in the community. First, talk about STDs, secondly get tested if you suspect anything, and thirdly get treated if you test positive for any STD.  We must have open conversations about STDs in our community. Also, the community needs to know the severity of all STDs. These aspects will make a DIS job much easier.  

For more information on DOH Leon's Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention Program visit:



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Written by:

Pamela Saulsby | Public Information Officer