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Lorraine Duncan Built a $50 Million Immunization Program

Duncan, who retired after spending 33 years running the program, has won plaudits from public health officials throughout the Pacific Northwest
October 3, 2013


October 3, 2013 -- After building a statewide agency from scratch, Lorraine Duncan has made an indelible imprint on Oregon’s Immunization Program.

Today, Oregon takes in $50 million each year – primarily from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – so that thousands of adults and children can get the vaccines they need to stay healthy, thanks to Duncan. “I know $50 million is a lot of money, and we’ve been very careful stewards of those dollars,” she said.

Physicians across the state – many of whom are pediatricians – as well as public health departments, rural health centers and federally qualified health centers receive those vaccines.

After leading the agency for the past 33 years, Duncan, 66, has retired. But her dedication and stamina have earned her plaudits as a super star on the national immunization stage

“Lorraine’s been a strong and effective leader, mentor and friend and is beloved by all,” said Thomas Eversole, DVM, MS, administrator for the Center for Public Health Practice with the Public Health Division. “The good health of so many Oregonians and our state-of-the art immunization programs are directly attributable to her leadership, vision and hard work. The opportunity to work with and learn from Lorraine has been one of the high points of my experience in state government.”

Duncan’s built a statewide immunization registry known as ALERT where physicians and school officials can know, by the click of a computer button, which children have been vaccinated for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Anytime someone is vaccinated – whether they’re a senior citizen or a baby – the information goes into the ALERT system, which is considered one of the nation’s best immunization systems.

Though Duncan is well known and loved across the country, she is most admired and remembered by the people who have worked with her, including Dr. David Fleming, now public health officer for King County in Washington State who had been medical director of the immunization program. “It’s hard to imagine that anyone could have done more to assure the health of Oregon children than Lorraine Duncan,” he said. “And to have that dedication and skill packaged inside such a caring person brightened my day more times than I can count.”

The people who worked with Lorraine on a daily basis feel even more fortunate. Many mention her steadfast leadership and the way she pushes the program to achieve important new goals

“Lorraine's mentorship has been invaluable. She's taught me much about life in the world as a government agent with a real heart for those we serve. I will forever be grateful,” said Mimi Luther, the provider services manager who worked with Duncan for 15 years. “She's an amazingly hard worker who truly values the input and creativity of those around her.”

Duncan also has a reputation for being extremely knowledgeable about all the complicated aspects of immunization. “I'm in awe of the number of details she's able to keep in her head--- about vaccines, grants, meeting deliberations, legislation. You're going to have to hire three people to replace her,” says Dr. Paul Cieslak, the current medical director of Oregon’s Immunization Program.

Duncan who joined the agency in 1980 as a grant writer had been the director of special programs for the Portland Metropolitan Steering Committee working on such projects as improving the health of African Americans and developed a healthcare precursor to the Oregon Health Plan.

Back then the agency had just five employees and a very tiny budget, Duncan recalls. Today, with 60 employees, its far-reaching budget has brought vaccinations to thousands of Oregonians, while, at the same time, Duncan’s built coalitions such as the Oregon Partnership to Immunize Children and the Immunization Policy and Advisory Team.

“I’ve really appreciated having one of the best immunization program managers in the nation right next door,” said Janna Bardi, who runs Washington State’s immunization program. “She has been a mentor to me in both program management and leadership in our national Association of Immunization Managers. She served as chair twice and made a suggestion for structuring quarterly leadership meetings with the Centers for Disease Control that has greatly strengthened communication and relationships. Lorraine’s contributions to the association are huge.”

Moving forward, Lydia Emer has taken on Duncan’s responsibilities at the Public Health Division. She joined the agency in 2000 as an administrative assistant for the Oregon Immunization Program. Most recently she served as performance management and quality improvement manager for the Division.