“What’s My Job?” Public Health project acts on survey results, allows leaders to shadow front-line employees

During 2017, employees from the Public Health – Seattle & King County Community Health Services Division (CHS) suggested their Leadership Team spend more time with CHS employees getting to know them and their work. After viewing the results from the annual employee engagement survey, this seemed like a great opportunity to help leadership learn about the work being done by front line employees and share more information about roles across the division.

This project became known as “What’s My Job?” and included a member of the CHS Leadership Team spending up to a half-day on the job with employees – observing, helping, participating or discussing (or all of these). CHS Employees were encouraged to submit a request.

“The project does even more than help us know the employees and their work – we also get to understand clients, and it opens pathways for employees to stay in contact with members of the Leadership Team,” said TJ Cosgrove, Director of CHS Division.

One recent “What’s My Job?” opportunity included a visit at the downtown Seattle Buprenorphine Pathways Program. The “Bupe” program is an on-demand opioid treatment program at Downtown Public Health Center, in partnership with the Robert Clewis Center Needle Exchange.  It is one of the most innovative programs in Public Health – and staff are working with some of the most challenging clients in King County.

CHS’ Michelle Pennylegion, Program Quality Manager, and Maureen Peterson, Finance and Administrative Services Manager, spent a half-day with the program.


Pictured: Bupe Program staff, left to right Wendy Dell, Malin Hamblin, Joe Breuner and Mandy Sladky. Not pictured: former team member Shana Cantoni.

“Evident to us from the moment we arrived was how our staff engage, relate to, and join with each client who bravely enters the clinic seeking our help and care,” said Michelle.

To make the most of their visit, they split up. Michelle spent her “What’s My Job?” with Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners Wendy Dell and Shana Cantoni, hearing real stories from several clients. Maureen spent her time with Community Health Worker Malin Hamblin and Dr. Joe Breuner, from Swedish Family Residency, to learn about the importance of creating relationships with clients. Bupe team member and Registered Nurse Mandy Sladky was out during the visit. Below are testimonials from Michelle and Maureen about their visits.

Michelle PennylegionMichelle Pennylegion, Program Quality Manager, shares her experience with Bupe Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners Wendy Dell and Shana Cantoni

“With Wendy and Shana, I instantly felt their genuine and gentle style, which helps create an atmosphere of openness and safety. I believe our clients also feel this as soon as they enter the clinic space,” said Michelle.

Michelle explains how this safe environment means that providers can elicit both general and specific information from clients, and clients are able to share intimate details about their struggle and the impact these struggles have on their lives.

“It became clear to me that when clients are able to share honestly, they can receive more complete care, such as gaining access to needed resources and other support,” she said.

Michelle also notes how humbling it was to listen as clients told their stories.

“There was a client who shared about his ‘life-long’ struggle seeking and receiving treatment,” she said. “He was grateful for the staff and the Downtown Public Health Center because he didn’t have to repeatedly relive his past negative experiences.”

Maureen PetersonMaureen Peterson, Finance and Administrative Services Manager, shares her experience with Bupe Community Health Worker Malin Hamblin and Dr. Joe Breuner

“I saw right away how important it is to meet clients ‘where they are’ and how Bupe staff are not judgmental toward their clients. Our providers are trying to help clients make short-term decisions that will get them to the point where they can make the decision to quit using,” said Maureen.

Maureen explains how Bupe staff build relationships with their clients by sharing information with each person in a direct compassionate manner.

“Malin does a little bit of everything and believes in ‘loving people when they are not at their best’,” said Maureen. “She has a gentle personality and shows great compassion, drawing from nine years working in needle exchange.”

“Wendy is a prescriber for the program, and is very straightforward while still being very kind,” said Maureen. “Clients were open with her, and they discussed goals for the week without dwelling on anything negative.  The visits were quick and delivered in a positive way.”

It is this gentle, empathetic way Bupe employees interact with their clients that help contribute to their recovery, notes Maureen. Regardless of their situation, Bupe staff are here to help.

“Joe provided treatment to a client in the context of a family medicine visit,” she said. “Clients are provided the same straightforward, caring treatment from Joe and discuss their goals with him.”

Excited to expand service to clients in 2019

The Bupe program began as a pilot in 2016 in whatever space could be made available at the Downtown Seattle Public Health Center. This was to demonstrate that King County Public Health can create a “low barrier” program for opioid treatment, which means clients get suboxone on their first visit. For the expansion occurring later this year, the program will move to the 4th floor and will triple its capacity to service clients.

Maureen and Michelle could see how Bupe staff were incredibly positive about the program and the care they provide, and are looking forward to the expansion.

“Ultimately, we were struck by the uniqueness of each client’s journey – and how our wonderful staff stand with clients, without hesitation, as they each take their next step and then help again as they navigate to the next,” Michelle and Maureen wrote in their follow-up message to staff. “Thank you Bupe Team for introducing us to your amazing work!”

For more information about the Bupe program visit the King County Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force website.