SBJ photo by McKenzie Robinson

2020 Most Influential Women: Kathryn Wall

Springfield-Greene County Health Department

Posted online

Kathryn Wall’s dream was to continue her family’s tradition of public service. She got her wish.

As public health information administrator for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, Wall leads communication initiatives for the largest health department in southwest Missouri. After joining the agency in 2014, it was baptism by fire and a crash course in crisis communication.

“After a mere two months at the Health Department, our community experienced a potential hepatitis A outbreak, which exposed as many as 5,000 people to the virus,” Wall says. “The potential exposure happened over a holiday weekend – both graduation and Mother’s Day – so customers of the restaurant were spread out all over the country.”

From managing local and national media to informing people of their risk, Wall was thrust into a public role that set her up for future career growth.

“How our entire team worked together in that crisis was recognized as a national model for crisis communication and response. I learned some really valuable lessons about leading a group when you don’t necessarily share the same lingo, building confidence in staff in an ever-changing situation and, importantly, just what I’m capable of in a stressful situation when I put my mind to it,” Wall says.

In 2017, she was charged with organizing the Springfield kickoff of the Missouri Opioid Crisis Summit, which marked the beginning of a nine-city tour. More than 400 people, including the governor, attended.

“Leading an interdisciplinary team for such a big event was a profound growth experience for me and was another opportunity to see just what big things I was capable of accomplishing, even on a tight deadline,” she says.

Wall’s previous experience as reporter for the Springfield News-Leader prepared her for working on time-sensitive projects and for presenting information to the media and the public.

So she knew that having more than 220 people show up last year at an event she organized to hear the results of the Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Assessment, a monthslong study, was significant for a topic that can be tough to discuss.

“I have lost five people to suicide in my life, and nearly all of those had never once shared how they were struggling,” Wall says. “As a communicator, I recognize the power and value of telling our stories, especially when stigma tells us we shouldn’t. But our stories are the most powerful antidote to stigma, and I had the great honor of helping people share their stories at our press conference.”

She has faced perhaps her biggest career challenge during COVID-19.

“I have had the unique honor of working alongside some of the most capable, passionate and dedicated professionals anywhere,” Wall says. “It has truly been an honor and privilege to tell their stories and communicate vital information as our community navigates these uncharted waters. Crisis communication in the age of COVID-19 has, hands down, been the most difficult challenge of my career and likely will always be.”