Region IV Public Health Training Center Responds to COVID-19

June 1, 2020
covid-19 Rollins research

Since 2014, the Region IV Public Health Training Center (R-IV PHTC), headquartered at the Emory Rollins School of Public Health, has served to educate and provide free training to the public health workforce in the eight states that comprise the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Region IV (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, MS, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee) through targeted webinars, workshops, and events designed to address pressing public health topics. The center also offers a robust field placement program for public health students in Region IV, providing them with opportunities to gain practical experience working with seasoned public health practitioners (mentors) serving or working on behalf of underserved communities or population. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the center has responded in kind with free extensive educational programming, webinars, student opportunities, and more to members of the public health community and beyond. Moose Alperin, principal investigator and director of the center, took a few minutes to answer questions about R-IV PHTC’s current efforts as they relate to COVID-19.

Could you provide examples of the types of webinars and trainings the Center has developed during COVID-19?

Recent COVID-19 related webinars have included:

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): Protecting the Public from the Current Outbreak, live (3/2/20) and recorded webinar (speaker: Carlos del Rio, MD). This was our first COVID-19-related webinar and was watched live by more than 1,000 people.

Addressing Your Questions about COVID-19, live (03/26/20) and archived webinar (speaker: Carlos del Rio, MD) 

Building Psychological Resilience for the Public Health Workforce during the COVID-19 Pandemic, live (04/22/20) and archived webinar (speaker: Mark Evces, PhD)

Understanding Models to Predict Viral Spread and Community Impactlive (5/13/20) and archived webinar (speaker: Suzanne Judd, PhD) 

Racial Disparities in COVID-19: A Public Health Perspective and Local Response live (05/27/20) and archived webinar (speakers: Derek MacGregor Griffith, PhD and Michael Caldwell, MD)

In addition to these webinars, the R-IV PHTC co-developed with two other regional Public Health Training Centers, a training called Thriving in an Online Work Environment which features over 20 one- to three-minute videos with tips and best practices from a variety of subject matter experts. The training is organized into five sections: Addressing Equity Issues in Virtual Environment, Converting In-person Training to Online Training, Managing Stress and Productivity, Virtual Meeting Facilitation, and Working Remotely). This training as well as others on strengths-based leadership, change management, communication, and health equity, while not specific to COVID-19, are important for individuals who are working in environments with new challenges.


How do these trainings support the Center's mission?

Providing training to the public health workforce is at the core of the R-IV PHTC’s mission. In addition to focusing on state-identified needs, the Health Services and Resource Administration (HRSA), which provides funding to R-IV PHTC, has also asked the center to focus on the following cross-cutting skill areas and HHS clinical priority areas:

(those marked with * are priorities)

Strategic skill areas: systems thinking,* change management,* persuasive communication,* resource management, policy engagement, cultural competence, problem solving, data analytics

Clinical priorities: mental health,* opioids,* childhood obesity,* HIV/AIDS, and other infectious diseases.

By providing training to meet the public health workforce’s needs, it is the intent that the workforce will be better prepared to address both everyday and emerging issues. 

R-IV PHTC also facilitates a Public Health Leadership Institute (PHLI), which will graduate its inaugural class in May 2020. Could you provide an overview of that program?

The R-IV PHLI provides training for emerging leaders who work in state, local, or tribal public health departments/tribal health organizations in the eight states that comprise HHS Region IV. The PHLI is an eight-month experience providing 40 contact hours of interaction. The institute consists of an orientation session (virtual), a three-day retreat (in person), and six additional sessions (virtual) that last 1.5 hours each.

The goal of the PHLI is to advance adaptive and strategic leadership skills to support multi-sector vision setting and leadership necessary to address the social, community-based, and economic determinants of health. Specific objectives of the program’s graduates are to:

  • Identify personal leadership strengths
  • Address a leadership challenge through a self-directed adaptive approach
  • Engage in peer consulting with Region IV colleagues
  • Apply leadership competencies in the context of public health

While not specifically designed to address issues of COVID-19, the PHLI has provided its fellows with adaptive and strategic skills needed to address emerging issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic. PHLI Fellows have used the institute’s listserv and Zoom meetings to exchange resources and support each other as they respond to COVID-19, including epidemiological processes, guidance documents, communication messages, training needs, mental health strategies, and advice on adaptive leadership solutions for their teams.

Fellows have shared that they are especially appreciative of the timing of the PHLI because they have immediately used the adaptive leadership skills they have been working on to tackle COVID-19 response. At least a couple have had to take on acting health department director roles and responsibilities during the pandemic.

Could you discuss what the COVID-19 Communities of Support for Public Health Professionals is and what functions it serves?

The COVID-19 Communities of Support initiative is designed for staff of local, tribal, and state health departments, with priority given to those working in Region IV. The R-IV PHTC staff created groups of 5-10 public health professionals based on preferences indicated during the registration process (e.g., discipline, geography, agency type). Each group was assigned a Technical Assistant (TA) contact from the R-IV PHTC. The TA contact starts a group email thread for each Community of Support and provides weekly prompts (introductions, discussion questions, resources, self-care tips, etc.) to get and keep community conversations going. There are 132 individuals participating in 17 Communities of Support.

In what ways has the R-IV PHTC assisted students with field placement during the pandemic?

The R-IV PHTC’s field placement program is known as the Pathways to Practice Scholars program. The program provides an opportunity for current public health students to gain practical experience working with seasoned public health practitioners (mentors) serving or working on behalf of underserved communities or populations. All field placements are intended to enhance a student’s professional skills and knowledge while giving them the opportunity to use skills learned in the classroom. Broad areas that might be addressed by a field placement experience are: epidemiology or biostatistics, health policy, health management, health promotion and education, global health; health communications, environmental health, or refugee health.  Approximately 32 student scholars are placed in organizations in the Region IV Public Health Training Center’s (PHTC) eight state area each year. In 2012, the program was recognized as a Best Practice by HRSA. Multiple alumni of the program have continued to work at their host sites, including health departments, following graduation.


When COVID-19 emerged, the R-IV PHTC had 16 students throughout Region IV working on their field placements and was planning for summer 2020 placements. Multiple spring 2020 field placement students shifted roles to help with COVID response, especially those placed at health departments. Their roles have included: helping with the COVID hotline, patient tracking/data (by telework), helping research and update hospital & ICU bed numbers for a state COVID-19 map, and serving as Logistics Officer for a day when needed to fill in (triaging organizations’ requests for PPE). Summer 2020 field placements are starting in May and June, and we expect that multiple roles will include COVID-19 response as well. 

For more information about the field placement program and past student stories, visit

Is there an overarching message you’d like to convey either about the Center itself, the programming, or your motivation to assist the greater public health community during the pandemic?

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, the spotlight has shifted to public health which gives leaders and decision makers the opportunity to act now in order to strengthen the capacity of the current and future public health workforce. The R-IV PHTC, along with the national Public Health Learning Network, is part of the training infrastructure to support the health departments that protect our communities on the frontlines. The support and development of the current and future public health workforce is an investment that is essential to tackling not only predictable public health issues but also those that are emerging like COVID-19. The investment in continual workforce development in both technical skills and adaptive leadership skills will help make our public health responses stronger in the future. Schools and programs of public health have a responsibility beyond their academic programs to address the professional development needs of the workforce in their communities. The Region IV PHTC is able to address these needs.

About the R-IV PHTC

Funded by the Health Services and Resource Administration (HRSA), the Region IV Public Health Training Center (R-IV PHTC) has been in existence in some form since 2010. From 2010-2014, the center was the Emory PHTC and served the state of Georgia. In 2014, HRSA shifted the PHTC model to a regional model, funding one PHTC in each of the country’s 10 HHS regions. Collectively, the 10 PHTCs, known as the Public Health Learning Network, cover all 50 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and US-affiliated Pacific Islands and make up the nation’s most comprehensive source of public health training and support. The eight states that compose the R-IV PHTC are: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.  The R-IV PHTC funds the following schools and agencies serve as community-based training partners and/or technical assistance providers: Alabama Department of Public Health, East Tennessee State University College of Public Health, Florida A&M University Institute of Public Health, Medical University of South Carolina, Mississippi Public Health Institute, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, University of Georgia College of Public Health, University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences, and University of North Carolina at Wilmington. 

Members of the core team at Emory include: 

  • Moose Alperin – PI and Director
  • Laura Lloyd – Associate Director
  • Michelle Carvalho – Program Manager/Project Coordinator
  • Hilary Merlin – Training and Communications Specialist
  • Mary Joyce (MJ) Bacon – Training Specialist
  • Deanna Zhong – Data Manager and Training Coordinator
  • Quaneisha Robinson – Instructional Designer
  • Karen Hudson – Administrative Coordinator
  • Gabrielle Metoyer – Graduate Assistant

To learn more about R-IV PHTC and its upcoming programming, visit