Dakota County commissioner honored as leader in public health

Nancy Schouweiler

Nancy Schouweiler didn't plan on being a leader in public health.

In January of 1999, she assumed her role as Dakota County commissioner for District 4, representing portions of Inver Grove Heights, Eagan and Apple Valley, and was assigned to the State Community Health Sciences Committee.

Since it was her first term on the county board, Schouweiler said she didn't have much of a choice in her committee assignments. But still, it was one that stuck.

For nearly 15 years, Schouweiler has worked with the committee, while garnering a reputation as a "champion for a strong local public health system" through years on subcommittees, workgroups and county-wide efforts to address issues related to tobacco, methamphetamine labs, mental health and child maltreatment. Public health became her "niche," she said during a recent interview.

She recently received the Award for Outstanding Dedication to Local Public Health from the Minnesota Department of Health, putting her among seven public health professionals who were honored with Community Health Awards this year.

Schouweiler, 57, has lived in Inver Grove Heights for 37 years with her husband, Greg, a South St. Paul pharmacist. They have two adult children and two grandchildren.

She served on the Inver Grove Heights School Board for 10 years, and earned her master's degree in public administration at Hamline University. She was elected to the Dakota County Board of Commissioners in 1998, and later served as the board chair twice.

Schouweiler has fueled efforts to promote mental health and access to treatment, strengthen county ordinances and policies related to tobacco and support home visiting for at-risk parents, according to Bonnie Brueshoff, the county's public health director, who nominated Schouweiler for the award.

"She seemed, to me, to be a perfect candidate and role model in this area in what she's done in committing her time, energy and expertise, and her voice at the state level for public health," Brueshoff said. "To me, it was clear that this award had her name right on it.

"She was very deserving."

Quelling mental health stigmas

Another thing that helped Schouweiler rise to the top for Brueshoff was her leadership in the Metro Alliance for Healthy Families, which offers home visits to "at-risk" families. Schouweiler was instrumental in establishing Dakota County's home visiting program aimed at reducing child maltreatment. It became a model for the metro group, the governing board of which Schouweiler now chairs.

Schouweiler said the program helps keep kids "out of the system," sticking by them through the toddler years and helping kids get ready for school. She said the county's "child protection needs" have decreased as a result.

"She's been willing to be a voice and do what she can to lead from her position as commissioner to state the importance and the value of that co-visiting," Brueshoff said.

Mental health has always been a priority for Schouweiler, she said.

Prior to being elected, she watched a family member struggle with getting proper treatment for a mental illness. A lot of it had to do with the "stigma" surrounding mental health issues, she said.

Schouweiler said she's aimed to quell that stigma by addressing mental health through a public health model.

Prevention and education are keys, she said.

"One in four people have a mental illness at one point in their life," she said, citing a statistic often referenced by national and worldwide health groups. "There's a medical reason for the illness."

She's also supported annual mental-health summits, where providers, families and other professionals discuss mental health, and especially the importance of educating the public.

Along with various public safety committees, she served on the Children's Subcommittee of the State Advisory Council on Mental Health and is a past president of the Association of Minnesota Counties.

Her dedication to her work goes back to why she chose to run for the Dakota County board in the first place.

"It really has the most to do with a person's everyday life," Schouweiler said. "We touch people's lives on a daily basis."

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.


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