Sally Fogerty grew up in Wisconsin, where she pitched in at her parents’ general store and learned the proper way to milk a cow. When it was time to pursue a higher education, her options were limited.
“When I graduated from high school in the early 1960s, there weren’t as many career opportunities for women,” Fogerty says. “You could become a nurse, a teacher, or a secretary. I wanted to help other people, so I chose nursing.”
That turned out to be a good choice.
Fogerty came east to work in the neonatal intensive care unit at the former Boston Lying-In Hospital. She wanted to help newborns and their mothers be as healthy as possible by preventing prematurity, birth defects, and problems resulting from the mother’s use of drugs or alcohol. This desire to help as many families as possible led her to work at the state and now the national level.
Today, Fogerty directs the Children’s Safety Network (CSN) at EDC, a national resource center for the prevention of childhood injuries and violence. Her work covers many aspects of child safety, including preventing child abuse, suicide, and accidental injuries.
“If I was going to make a real difference, I realized the best way was to get involved in setting policy and standards and developing programs which would prevent a problem—whether an injury or illness—from happening in the first place,” she says. “I also wanted to make sure the best care and services were available to treat the problem if it occurred.”
How did you transition from nursing to working in public health?
When I started at Boston Lying-In—one of the first maternity hospitals in the country—we didn’t have the medical technologies we have today, but we were learning. We realized that to make a difference, we needed to develop training programs, a triage system for critically ill infants, and strong standards. I became part of a team developing training and standards around the care of small and sick babies for the state.
From there, I moved to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to work on implementing standards and programs for mothers and children. I was involved in setting up one of the first state injury prevention programs in the country, rape crisis centers, and well-child health programs.
What led you to work at EDC?
I was thinking about retiring from the state, but I still wanted to make a difference. I had worked with CSN and EDC for years. We shared the belief that prevention is where it’s at. EDC was a great fit.
What is one of your priority areas at CSN?
A major area for me is helping states develop and implement policies and programs that will reduce the risk of injury. This means maintaining the current efforts—such as making sure all young children use car seats—while helping state health departments take a leadership role in the prevention of child abuse and neglect. For instance, we just completed an environmental scan to learn which states are currently involved in programs related to child maltreatment. All 50 states responded to our survey, which shows how committed they are to preventing childhood injuries.
Keeping up on emerging issues is critical. For instance, as national health care reform rolls out, states have the opportunity to develop home visiting programs for new mothers, infants, and young children. This is what we did when I started my career. We would check in on new moms at home and say, “How are you doing? What do you need?” We want to help states incorporate injury prevention into these programs. If we work with at-risk mothers early on, we can help them learn parenting skills and ways to keep their children safe. This includes things like putting on electrical outlet covers and window guards, thus preventing the injury before it occurs.