by Marissa Lorenz
Given COVID-19 restrictions and risks related to even small gatherings, there is no official
“Goodbye” party that will be held for Grand County Public Health Director Brene Belew-LaDue, who leaves the position in which she’s served the community for over 17 years and the agency for which she’s worked for 26 years. Nonetheless, colleagues and community partners recall her dedication and wish her luck in the next phase of her career.
Belew-LaDue is originally from Texas and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in nursing from Western Texas A&M University. But she loves skiing and had vacationed in Grand County, where she first came across the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD).
So in 1989, she moved to Grand County, began volunteering as a ski instructor with NSCD, and started seeking a job in her previous field of pediatric oncology.
For the next few years, Belew-LaDue would teach skiing in Winter Park and commute to Denver, where she worked at Children’s Hospital. In 1992, she was able to give up the long drive when she took a job at Grand County Public Health as a public health nurse. She served in that position for eight years, before returning for another stint at Children’s Hospital in 2000.
She would return to GC Public Health in 2003 and be appointed director by October of that year.
“Public health is a passion of mine,” states Belew-LaDue about her work at the County. “I see my value in life as helping people. I want to help people. I want to help the community. That’s what public health is about, helping the community and helping the population. And working in public health was my opportunity to do that.”
And in the time that she’s served as director of Public Health, Belew-LaDue has managed pertussis and flu outbreaks. She oversaw response to one of the largest tuberculosis exposures in the state, following up with between 300 and 500 people at the time. In 2009, under her directorship, Public Health responded to and vaccinated residents during an H1N1 outbreak. Just a year later, the office vaccinated over 900 people over a single weekend in response to an outbreak of Hepatitis A.
“This is prevention work,” Belew-LaDue explains, “and it’s challenging to show the value of prevention.
It’s different from how people view response from entities like fire departments. We don’t have any big, shiny, red trucks. It’s hard to show and prove what prevention does–the lives it saves, the illness it helps avoid.”
Belew-LaDue was the visionary and creative force behind the ACHES and PAINS voucher programs, which offer dental and healthcare services to children and adults who are uninsured or underinsured. Public Health hired its first Spanish-speaking staff under her direction, in order to better reach that group in the community.
Also in those years, Belew-LaDue continued putting down her local roots. She met and married her husband, Peter, in Grand County. Here, they raised their daughter, Emma, who graduated from Middle Park High School amidst the COVID-19 pandemic last spring.
And as Belew-LaDue leaves her position as director of Public Health on Friday, she looks forward to some more free time with her family.
“I want to ski together, which we haven’t done in a long time,” she says, recalling the love that first brought her to Grand County. Her family also enjoys rafting and has discussed purchasing a camper or RV, hoping to enjoy some camping or ski trips once things begin opening up again. But– “The first thing I have to do is clean my house, which I maybe haven’t had time to clean since March,” she laughs.
Although she is contemplating next career options, Belew-LaDue is excited about the opportunity
to return to school to pursue her master’s degree. She is considering a master’s in nursing education
and says she would like to end her career in a teaching capacity. Although she comes full circle as she notes, “But public health is my passion. It is my social justice mission–public health, protecting community health, and health equity in communities. I’m excited to take this first step towards that.”
In closing and after recalling the many achievements and challenges during her time at Grand County, Belew-LaDue stresses, “I would never have been able to do what I have done in Public Health without the awesome staff and community support that exists here. Especially since March, the work, time, and dedication put into case investigation, contact tracing, and now the vaccine has been incredible. And it has not just been Public Health. It’s the senior services, senior nutrition, human services, and all our other community partners. They’ve been amazing.”
And that community says the same about Belew-LaDue. In the manner of a socially-distanced
“Thank you,” they offered messages of gratitude and well-wishes.
“Brene built the County Public Health Department. She built a great team and a high-functioning office. Thank you to Brene for her 17 years of service. We wish her the best of luck.” –Grand County Board of County Commissioners
“Thank you to Ms. Brene Belew-LaDue for her dedication to Grand County, commitment to public health and serving our citizens throughout the years; we wish Brene all the best.” –Ed Moyer, Interim County Manager
“I have been honored to work with Brene the last 5 years. She has been a wonderful mentor, shown tenacity and compassion, and always put the community in the forefront of her work. I wish her the best in her future endeavors.” –Abbie Baker, Deputy Director of Public Health
“Brene has been a friend, a mentor, and a colleague of mine for over 20 years. She has given Grand County Public Health more time, effort, and energy than most people can fathom–all in the attempt to keep Grand County citizens safe and prepared in the case of emergencies as well as healthy all the time.
As citizens, we owe her a debt of gratitude for working to protect us for the past 17 years. Personally, I will miss working alongside her and am grateful for her leadership and support all of these years. I wish her all the very best as she moves on to whatever her next chapter brings. Cheers, Brene!” –Deb Ruttenberg, Director of Grand County Human Services
“I have had the privilege of knowing and working with Brene for over 20 years. I have always been most impressed with the heart and soul that surrounded her work. Over the years, I have sat on many committees with her. She was always focused on keeping our community safe. She will be missed.” –Helen Sedlar, Executive Director, Mountain Family Center
“While I’ve known Brene for many years as a longtime resident and a pillar in Grand County health care, I had the opportunity to work in the trenches with Brene last spring. The professionalism that she and her staff brought to the situation represented the county well.
While it was a polarizing time in Grand County, watching her work behind the scenes, she always tried to bring balance to policy, trying to find the effective medium between the ‘too restrictive’ and ‘not safe enough’ crowds, and always made sure Grand County’s voice was heard with the state. I really appreciate the many years of service Brene has put into keeping our county healthy and wish her the best of luck.” –Brad White, Grand Fire Chief
“Brene is such a wonderful community asset. We’ve been privileged to work with her for the past 17 years.” –Dr. Rick Bortz, Denver Health, Winter Park Medical Center
“I’ve worked with Brene for over a decade. In that time, she has been a stellar advocate for the health and well-being of people in this community, from birth to death, in every age group. She’s really worked to be innovative in her programs, such as bringing on the nurse-family partnership, optimizing the WIC [Women Infant Child] program, and promoting senior nutrition and home health programs. We’ve gone through three state-mandated community assessments together–not an easy thing to do.
She’s a very committed individual, has shared such a deep fount of knowledge, and has grown with the community, changing the perspective of what Public Health does.” –Dr. Darcy Selenke, Denver Health Winter Park and GC Medical Director
“Brene has a tremendous amount of knowledge and passion about public health. Over the years, I have seen her research emerging trends so she can expertly understand and speak about them, serve as a lead for the state public health directors, and evolve and adjust local programming and systems to better align with community needs and science.
Most importantly, she tirelessly advocates for people experiencing barriers to health and always puts the health of the community at the forefront of decision-making. She has served on the Rural Health Network board as an ongoing position and has been integral in the creation of nearly all of our programs and initiatives. (…) Personally, she has been an invaluable partner, mentor, and support. I have learned so much from Brene. Our community is better and healthier because of her service.” –Jen Fanning, Executive Director, Grand County Rural Health Network