Lincoln County Public Health has a new deputy director with a unique background that is sure to bring another perspective to the county health scene.
Florence Pourtal spent eight years delivering public health programs in far-flung locales around the globe and five plus years as a public health director in Oregon before starting her position in Lincoln County on September 28, 2020.
Between 2002 and 2010, Pourtal worked in South Sudan, Tanzania, Vietnam, Morocco, and elsewhere to get healthcare, nutrition, and social service programs to people in need. Before that, she had earned her bachelor’s degree in public law and her master’s degree in international humanitarian assistance from universities in France, where she was born. From the ages of four to 13, she lived in Gabon and Morocco before returning to France for high school and college.
“I think I realized early on that I had a privileged life and I really wanted to give back to communities that were not as privileged as I was. I think because I had been exposed to other cultures in my childhood, I was very curious and wanted to explore the world. After about 10 years on the ground in developing countries, I wanted to get the theory behind my experience, so I decided to go back to school,” she added.
Pourtal earned her master’s degree in public health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine around the same time she relocated to the United States. After working for two years in Portland at a non-profit agency, she was named the Public Health Administrator of Coos County in July of 2014, where she worked until earlier this year.
Today, as deputy director in Lincoln County, Pourtal oversees many of the public health programs, including health promotion, environmental health, and communicable disease, the program that entails the county response to COVID-19. Thanks to her work responding to the early months of the virus in Coos County, she is well aware of public health expectations and requirements in Oregon. Her focus now is to get the local perspective.
“I’m very much observing and listening to what people have been doing,” Pourtal explained. “I’m very interested in the work that was done and continues to be done by everyone in public health and outside of public health to prevent the spread of this disease and to promote healthy practices.”
With the on-going pressure of leading the area’s COVID response, Lincoln County Public Health Director Rebecca Austen said she is thankful for this “passionate and seasoned public health professional.”
“Florence jumped right in and started attending meetings, offering suggestions, and supporting staff. I look forward to our community partners getting to know Florence and working alongside her to help keep our community safe and healthy,” Austen said.
While both are coastal communities, the deputy director said there are some considerable differences between Coos and Lincoln counties. Lincoln, she explained, has more diversity within the population. Coos has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the state per capita, according to the recent point-in-time count.
In addition to community differences, Pourtal also noted some differences in public health programming.
“I was always impressed by Lincoln County. Just the fact that we have a harm reduction program is really amazing. That shows a commitment to care for people who are struggling with the disease of addiction,” she noted. Among other things, the county’s harm reduction program provides HIV testing, Hepatitis C testing, needle exchange, and medications to reverse opioid overdose.
Pourtal also praised the people working in her new department. “It’s a very dedicated team of caring people who are working hard to keep Lincoln County safe,” she noted. With regard to COVID-19, she pointed out that “people had to jump into roles they have never played before and they really seemed to rise up to the challenge of insuring the community is as protected as possible.”