San Juan Basin Public Health Executive Director Liane Jollon was awarded the American Medical Association’s Nathan Davis Award for Outstanding Government Service, considered one of the most prestigious awards honoring elected officials and government employees.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet nominated Jollon in November, applauding at the time her work in the community as well as her efforts to push for the establishment of a national Health Force to strengthen the response to the pandemic.
“(Jollon) has been a calm, informed and resourceful leader, advocating not just for her region, but for every other public health agency across the state,” Bennet said previously.
On Monday, it was announced Jollon was one of five recipients of the award this year, being honored in the “career public servant at the local level” category. SJBPH serves Archuleta and La Plata counties.
“I am proud to accept this award on behalf of all of the public health superheroes at SJBPH and Colorado’s 53 local public health agencies, who spent the year sacrificing in every way to fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jollon in a statement.
“If we’ve learned anything living through the last year of the pandemic, it’s that we’re all in this together, and extraordinary team efforts in public health and across our entire society are what truly make a difference.”
Jollon joined SJBPH as a clinic nurse in 2010 and was named executive director in August 2013. In the past year, she has been known as the top director in the health agency’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The fight against COVID-19 is just the latest challenge Ms. Jollon has taken on during a career devoted to improving public health,” American Medical Association Board Chairman Russ Kridel said in a statement.
Kridel said the award is named after AMA’s founder, Dr. Nathan Davis, and is intended to recognize career officials in federal, state and municipal service who have contributed to the betterment of public health.
“From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Jollon has worked with leaders in the region and throughout the state to develop and communicate a coordinated public health response,” he said.
Indeed, Bennet said Jollon has contributed to SJBPH for more than a decade, and took the lead on the COVID-19 response, organizing testing events, battling staffing issues and putting measures in place to contain the virus.
Bennet noted Archuleta and La Plata counties have been in the bottom 20% in Colorado for cases per capita for most of the pandemic, despite high tourism to the region and in-person learning at local schools.
And, Bennet said Southwest Colorado has the lowest cumulative infection rate in the state, as well as the highest vaccination rate.
“Liane’s leadership and scientific integrity throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is a model for thousands of public health leaders throughout Colorado and the country, who have worked under extremely difficult conditions to keep us safe,” Bennet said in a statement.
As the COVID-19 pandemic became politicized, Jollon was also the target from some people who take issues with state-ordered public health orders aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.
In several instances over the past few weeks, protesters have shown up outside her home.
“This seems to be a disturbing new trend that is not just local here, but in other parts of the state and country as well,” Durango Police Chief Bob Brammer said at the time.
Currently, there are two new proposed state laws that would better conceal personal information of public health workers as well as a law that would better regulate protests outside people’s homes.
Jollon said at the time it was her job to protect people who may get sick and die.
“Like others, I personally don’t love wearing masks, and I miss my spending time with my friends and family, and sure as heck miss eating indoors in restaurants, because I’m a really terrible cook,” she said. “But this isn’t about me. It is my job to protect those who may get sick and die.”
Before joining SJBPH, Jollon spent 15 years in the nonprofit sector, working to provide people with health care access, housing, violence protection and economic development.