New Public Health director named for San Juan County: Dr. Sunada

San Juan County welcomes its newest Public Health Director in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. The department has been without a director the entire year, after former director Kirk Benge accepted a role in Uintah County. 

In October, the county hired Dr. Grant Sunada, who comes to the position with several academic degrees and 15 years of experience in Public Health.

During an interview with Redrock 92.7 FM, Dr. Sunada says the area feels familiar. Growing up in a family in the Airforce, Sunada spent time in southern New Mexico and passed through San Juan County on road trips as a child.

In the years following, Dr. Sunada received a master’s degree in public health from Brigham Young University before working in maternal care in Cambodia. 

After internships at Utah County Health Department, he worked for several years for the Utah Department of Health, where he was involved in a diabetes program that had him working with the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

Sunada then went back to school to earn a PhD in Public Health from the University of Utah and later worked for the university’s school of medicine. 

While San Juan Public Health promotes health and wellbeing in many ways, Dr. Sunada said COVID-19 remains the top challenge.

Dr. Sunada says just as cold winter months require extra layers of clothes, the health department suggests extra layers of protection.

“We know that the [COVID] vaccinations are working well, we’re seeing really a lot of protection there,” said Sunada. “There are occasional what we call breakthrough cases [when vaccinated individuals become infected] and what we’re seeing there is overall they’re much more mild.”

Dr. Sunada says there’s still an opportunity to receive the vaccine, “You can come in, talk to our staff and make sure it’s the right fit. There are a few factors. If you have an allergy say to the flu vaccine, that’d be an indication to not get the COVID-19 vaccination, but otherwise it’s an opportunity to have that layer of protection.”

Dr. Sunada says other layers of protection can protect the most vulnerable in the community, including masking, social distancing and circulating fresh air.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has given Public Health efforts a higher public profile, Dr. Sunada says San Juan Public Health is focused on more issues beyond the pandemic.

Sunada says the department works on items ranging from checking on wastewater systems, to administering women infants and children (WIC) programs for families with lower incomes and encouraging flu vaccinations.

“We have what we call Health Promotion and its partnerships across the county trying to help people know how to make those healthy choices for their families, their communities and themselves,” said Sunada. “That goes back to basics, how do you eat well, stay physically active. Also how do you manage stress?”

During his five weeks in the county, Dr. Sunada says his meetings with the health board has revealed a priority of the board, “We want San Juan Public Health to be a trusted bridge of health and wellness for the whole county.”

Dr. Sunada says in order to build that bridge and look at health across the county, the board is planning community health tours.

Members of the board represent communities across the county, and Sunada says the board is interested in participating in the community health tours.

“These community health tours will help us see what is health and wellness in the communities from their perspectives,” said Sunada. “Part of that is bridging empathy gaps, being able to understand and relate to each other.”

Dr. Sunada says the plan is tours over six months to help the board define their vision, mission and goals for the county together.

San Juan Record

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