Group of people with masks

This study hears from public health practitioners across Iowa about their experiences responding to COVID-19 and uses their stories to identify existing strengths and areas for improvement.

Team members:

  • UIowaRima Afifi (lead), Heidi Haines (lead)
  • PRC-RH Students: Amanda Suresly
  • PartnersLina Tucker-Reinders (co-lead, Iowa Public Health Association), Brad Brake (formerly Harrison County Public Health Department), Sarah Dixon (Iowa Primary Care Association), Kaitlin Emrich (Black Hawk Public Health), Michelle Lewis (Siouxland Health Department), Jimmy Reyes (Board of Nursing), Kelly Wells Sittig (Iowa Cancer Association)

Project dates: 2021-present

Funding sources: UI PRC-RH

Project tags: COVID-19, mental health, public health workforce




The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant mental health impacts on public health staff who interacted with the public around implementation of mitigation strategies related to the pandemic. The political environment around COVID-19 has further exacerbated this impact- particularly in States that were less responsive to the pandemic.

The objective of this qualitative pilot project, in partnership with the Iowa Public Health Association, is to deconstruct the COVID-19 response in the state of Iowa, with the intent to learn lessons about effective action and areas of needed improvement and with particular attention to people who have historically been socially or economically marginalized and the social determinants of health that were impacted by the crisis.  We are using an innovative mixed methods data collection tool, SenseMaker, that allows visualization "of patterns across the narratives of wide and diverse populations." We have engaged public health professionals to share short stories of their experience in the pandemic, challenges, facilitators, growth, and struggles. Early results indicate that the stories powerfully illustrate the context of the pandemic in Iowa and highlight the severe strain on the mental health of public health professionals during the pandemic and currently, as well as feelings of frustration and lack of appreciation. The analysis of all the inputs allows us to understand and contextualize individual experiences and harness knowledge across the breadth of those experiences to inform strategic planning and action to support communities in the continued response to COVID-19 and to other public health crises. The results will guide strategic planning and action in public health organizations in order to support communities and public health professionals in the continued response to COVID-19 and response to other crises.

Resources, Media, & Publications 




  • Afifi R, Haines H, Tucker-Reinders L, HKEL planning committee. Harnessing 21: Iowa’s Experience Mitigating COVID -19. Iowa Public Health Association annual conference, May 2022
  • Afifi, R. & Haines, H. Harnessing Knowledge/Elevating Learnings: Iowa's Experience Mitigating COVID-19: Using the SenseMaker® Software Platform. Public Health Conference of Iowa. April 2021