by Anne Marie Turner
Leslie Mansolo didn't start out to be a nurse, but as fate would have it, she currently finds herself a Public Health Nurse -- fighting bioterrorism for the residents of the State of Texas. Mansolo wants it clear right from the beginning, though, that she isn't alone in increasing "preparedness and response to bioterrorism" in the State of Texas. It is just one part of her job as Interim Director for the Office of Public Health Practice (OPHP) for the Texas Department of Health (TDH); she is part of a team.
Her current role as Interim Director of the OPHP is new. It is a relatively new office within the agency (TDH), says Mansolo. "It is an office that was created to be the link between the State and the eleven state regions (which are a part of the state system) and the local public health systems providing the essential services of public health. We are the link between central office, the regions, and local offices."
Being that important link between similar but different entities and ideas was what finally drew Mansolo to the field of public health nursing when she made a career choice.
"I was drawn to the combination of the art and science, the medical aspect, and the human connection that nursing brings," says Mansolo. "But, I couldn't see myself confined to a hospital taking orders from doctors. I started out in medical technology, but I also couldn't see myself sitting, looking into a microscope at pieces. I didn't want to be confined in a hospital setting, in a top-down hierarchy -- at that time, in a predominately male-dominated world of doctors. Then, I did a rotation in public health nursing."
Mansolo explains that public health nursing is the branch of nursing that promotes health and seeks to prevent disease and injury. "It is a proactive step rather than coming into someone's life because of illness or injury."
Armed with that new information and a course correction, Mansolo's career took off. Her first job was, indeed, in public health nursing. Since then, she has served in a variety of roles from school nurse to American Red Cross Nurse Volunteer to critical care nurse in the Burn Unit at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Somewhere in the middle, she returned to school to pursue an advanced degree.
"While I was working in the Rio Grande Valley, the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio brought a unique program (at that time) to the Valley. It was designed primarily for working professionals to pursue an MSN - Master of Science in Nursing.
I started there, in the Valley, going to school on alternate weekends, and finished my MSN Clinical Nurse Specialist in Community Health Nursing by commuting to San Antonio when we moved to Austin several years ago."
As Mansolo speaks about her present position, her detailed and direct speech denotes a keen understanding of both the real world and how state government functions. Her eyes reveal how important it is to bring the two worlds together. "Local public health systems are where the rubber meets the road in providing public health services to Texas residents. The State's role is to support that function."
She explains further that TDH provides multiple services that benefit the citizens: licensure and regulatory functions, programs such as HIV, WIC, etc., the State Laboratory, The Bureau of Vital Statistics, and collaborative efforts with other health and human service agencies - many of which are categorically funded from the federal government.
"We took a compilation of existing programs through a long process, and targeted this office to cut through the categories and operate, instead, on functions.
Then, along came 9/11 and Anthrax.
A colossal amount of money from the federal government - through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) - has been allocated to the States to increase preparedness and response capabilities. Texas is positioned to receive over $58 million -- about $8 million will be allocated for hospital preparedness, and $51 for state and local public health systems.
What we are doing right now is allocating those dollars and developing plans to increase our capabilities in preparedness and response to bioterrorism, infectious disease, and other public health threats."
Bottom line: Mansolo's job is to be a leader and a team player, helping to attain that money and ensure her team spends the funds appropriately. It is a huge job, made larger by the nation's pressure since September 11th and the start-up nature of the office.
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"It feels good to know I am a part of attempting to keep public health services in the forefront. People don't usually think about public health until there is a problem. Unfortunately, 9/11 made people think about it a lot. I think people understand what public health means now. Local public health providers are the front lines for the citizens. When we get to help them so they can do their job -- make life easier for someone -- it's pretty gratifying.
Being a nurse is not just what I do. It's who I am. It's ALL about me. It's a part of me. I don't know what else I would do if I weren't a nurse. I wouldn't trade what I do for anything."
"You should know, though, that I don't cook," quips Mansolo. "I know my limits. I DO clean, and I love to garden. I love being outside. It's so grounding to be outside pulling weeds, planting flowers, filling the bird feeders."
Outdoors is generally where you will find Mansolo when she isn't in the office, or volunteering as a parish nurse at her church, bringing better health to Texans. "I'm a huge baseball fan. The Yankees are my major league team, but I'm a regular attendee at the Round Rock Express games, UT games, and my son's baseball games. I even keep the box scores! I've been keeping official score as Team Mom for my son's baseball teams since he was T-ball age."
She also participates in sports, taking her own proactive approach to health by being a triathlete. "I've done the Danskin Triathlon for four years; this will be my fifth. I talked it up so much that my friend Kath from Minnesota started coming down to participate in the event with me.
Right now, I'm getting ready to do the 25th anniversary Capital 10,000 with my husband. I am truly blessed that he is my best friend and soul mate. We make each other laugh. We have fun. It's still working."
Leslie Mansolo is the mother of one teenage son and two grown stepsons, both married and enjoying medical careers of their own.
Here's more of what Leslie had to say to AustinMama:
What is the biggest contradiction you see mothers being faced with today?
Mothers who work outside their homes are particularly challenged to excel at work and at being a Mom. There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking, not all work/professional environments support women as we balance time, energy, and creativity.
What do you see as your biggest challenge in being the kind of person you want to be?
My biggest challenge is, as mentioned above, balance. I strive to achieve a level of harmony in my commitments of time and attention to my husband and son and my home with the responsibilities of my career.
What makes you most happy about what you give back to the world?
My son makes me the most happy about my return to this planet. I'm very grateful to be his Mom. He is one of the kindest, cheerful, funny, intelligent people I know. He understands, even at the young age of soon-to-be sixteen-years-old, what is important in life: relationships. Relationships with others, with God, with the environment.
What two notable people would you like to see handcuffed together for a day?
I would like to see Diane Sawyer and Jerry Falwell forced to spend a day together. Diane would ask the most direct and confronting questions that Mr. Falwell would be compelled to answer. Particularly regarding his venomous statements in response to the September 11th attacks.
What do you wish you could automatically grant, like a fairy godmother, to all new mothers? To mothers during trying times?
To all new mothers I would grant a minimum sleep cycle of seven hours. To mothers during trying times, I would grant a large dose of hindsight. Something that would help one to see how actions and words impact (for good or not) at a later time.
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