Jackie Phillips-Carter ’04 works on the frontlines battling coronavirus
By Jesús Jiménez, assistant director of editorial services
When she was in high school, Jackie Phillips ’04 had an idea of what her life would look like.
Graduate high school. Get a job. Get married. Have children.
But during her time as a student at Middletown High School in 1978, Jackie had the opportunity to work for an orthodontist who eventually encouraged her to start college.
After becoming a registered nurse, she was pushed by one of her doctors or she was encouraged by one of her doctors to earn a bachelor’s degree. Then later, a master’s degree.
Now, the 2004 graduate of Miami University holds one of the most influential positions in Butler County as the health commissioner for the City of Middletown.
Jackie is among several Miamians on the frontlines battling COVID-19 and shares advice on living through the pandemic while also sharing an inspirational path to a Miami degree.
“Looking back, everything lined up,” she said. “Looking back over your life, you see how things were ordered. You don’t think about it at the time, but everything happens for a reason.”
‘We need to make sure we encourage our youth to dream’
The fourth of five children, Jackie was the first in her family to earn a college degree – though the thought of going to college never crossed her mind at a young age.
“I really wasn’t thinking about college,” Jackie said. “There were certain friends of mine who had older siblings going to college. I really just didn’t think we could afford it.”
While she was in high school, Jackie had the opportunity to work for an orthodontist and was offered a full-time position after she graduated.
Life seemed to come together as she got married and had a daughter, but when her daughter was only 1, Jackie went through a divorce and had to adapt to being a single mother.
Looking for a way to earn more money, she enrolled at the Kettering School of Medical Art to pursue an associate’s degree at night.
It may never have happened if she didn’t have people trust in her and encourage her.
“When I was working at the orthodontist office, I remember telling my boss I had to quit to go back to school, and he said, ‘I really don’t want you to quit because I need you, but I can help you go back to school,’” Jackie said. “Once I became a nurse, I became a treatment coordinator at the orthodontist office and the salary greatly improved.
“I now recognize that unless some people are expected to do more, they never just think about it on their own. People came in my life that helped me get to where I am. We need to make sure we encourage our youth to dream and encourage our youth to say, ‘What’s next?’”
‘I may have stayed right where I was unless there had been someone prodding me’
Jackie was content with being a nurse, but life kept pushing her further than she imagined.
As she continued to work in her position as a treatment coordinator near Dayton, her sister encouraged her to find a position closer to home.
They attended an event where Jackie met a former Middletown health commissioner and was soon offered a part-time health education position. She began working at the City of Middletown Health Department and transitioned into a full-time vital statistics registrar. And although she had not achieved her bachelor’s degree yet, the health commissioner strongly recommended her to fill the director of nursing position that had recently become opened.
With the Health Commissioner’s constant nudging, Jackie earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing at Miami University Middletown in 2004, and later, a master’s in Public Health from Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University.
“Every step of the way, I may have stayed right where I was unless there had been someone prodding me saying, ‘You know what, you need to go back to school,’” Jackie said.
‘You take a deep breath, calm down and put that emergency preparedness plan into practice … ’
Jackie joined the health department in Middletown in 1997 and is currently a member of the Ohio Public Health Association, the Southwest Ohio Health Commissioners Association and many other Community Boards and committees.
Her position focuses on the overall mental, physical and spiritual health of the community.
“If all of a sudden, everybody is sick, you have to wonder why,” Jackie said. “Sick could be mental health, suicide, gun violence, diabetes, obesity, substance abuse, hepatitis A, COVID – everything.
“When something affects a population of health, that’s what a health commissioner is in charge of.”
Part of that includes being prepared to tackle emergencies such as natural disasters, power outages and pandemics.
“Public health has planned for pandemics forever,” Jackie said. “When we exercise these, we always build it up to the worst-case scenario. A surge is when you get overwhelmed in hospitals and beds are full, patients are out in the hallways, in the parking lots in tents or in refrigerated trucks.
“All of our planning was always about incidents that were localized like Hurricane Katrina, that was an event that happened pretty much in Louisiana, so you can get a lot of resources from other places, but we also have to be prepared for, ‘What if this was happening all across the United States and there’s no one sending resources?”
Jackie recalls January when coronavirus was starting to become a topic of conversation in Butler County, but the news was just starting to scratch the surface. A few months later, the emergency preparedness plan came into effect as most of the country started to shut down.
“After you kind of say ‘uh oh’ and your heart is beating really fast, you take a deep breath, calm down and put that emergency preparedness plan into practice, which says, who do you contact, how do you handle this and what’s the next thing,” Jackie said.
‘We’re all in this together’
Coronavirus is still unknown in many ways, but Jackie foresees a time when things slowly return to the “new” normal.
For that to happen, however, she encourages people to continue doing their part to help “flatten the curve.” That means we decrease the spread until we get better treatment and ultimately an effective vaccine.
“This slogan that we’re all in this together is true because if you don’t get sick, your parents, grandparents, co-workers, your children’s child care, health care might. After a while, everybody should be concerned because it will affect them one way or another,” she said.
“It’s so much bigger than us. As public health officials, we have to be mindful of everyone – we really don’t know who will bear the greatest burden of illness, so we have to do everything to keep everyone safe.” Economically it hits us on every side, business and consumers.
Now is the time to slow down and find healthier ways of living everyday life.
Going to a family gathering? Don’t share drinks or plates.
Hosting a party? Try hosting it outside. Keep a safe distance. Wash your hands before eating.
“Just like after Sept. 11, life changed,” Jackie said. “We’ll never go to the airport without taking our shoes off – that’s going to be part of life now. Now, maybe you’ll see that masks may become a thing of the future. You’ll see that handwashing and sanitation will just be a part of our everyday life (as it should). People will not be as clustered in education – and as people start being more careful, you’ll see that a lot of other illnesses that are spread by “touching” will start to decrease.
“Right now, everybody doing a little bit of everything, will make us stronger, safer and healthier.”