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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Alabama

Thursday, January 12, 2017

U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance to Receive 2017 Lou Wooster Public Health Hero Award

The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health is honoring U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance as the 2017 recipient of its Lou Wooster Public Health Hero award for her leadership in creating a broad-based response to the heroin epidemic in northern Alabama.


UAB School of Public Health announced today that its advisory board, the Broad Street Committee, has selected Vance for the award, which is presented annually to recognize an individual, group or organization that is an unconventional public health hero. The award is named in honor of Louise Wooster, the 19th century Birmingham madam who risked her life during the 1873 cholera epidemic by staying in the city to care for the sick and dying. A devastating cholera epidemic struck the young city that year and most residents, including all the local leadership, fled.


In its announcement, the UAB School of Public Health said Vance was selected for her leadership in comprehensively addressing the heroin epidemic in metropolitan Birmingham and elsewhere across the state. “When few recognized the emerging epidemic of heroin and opioid-related deaths, Joyce Vance, in her role as United States Attorney, convened the first ‘Pills to Needles Summit’ in June 2014 that overnight galvanized community leaders around this new public health threat. Through her leadership and determination, Joyce Vance established a new paradigm to address this threat to the public’s health that linked law enforcement, government, academia, public health, victims, and advocates. Together these institutions, organizations, and individuals have worked a long-term strategy that recognizes the complexities of this epidemic and is sufficiently flexible to adjust to anticipated but unknown changes in the substances, the populations, and the distributors,” the announcement said.


“Vance joins uncommon public health heroes, selected because their work falls outside the traditional boundaries of public health, yet has a great impact on the public’s health,” said Max Michael III, M.D., dean of the UAB School of Public Health.


Vance was one of the first five U.S. Attorneys nominated by President Barack Obama. The Senate confirmed her nomination Aug. 7, 2009. Vance served on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee from 2009 to 2011, where she helped to craft Justice Department policy. She presently co-chairs the AGAC’s Criminal Practice Subcommittee, and serves on the Civil Rights Subcommittee.


Vance, like Lou Wooster, is an uncommon public health hero, the UAB announcement said. “Lou Wooster’s grit and determination to stay in Birmingham, along with some of the other girls at her house on Morris Avenue, is credited with assuring that there was a Birmingham for the leadership to come back to.”


Previous winners of the Lou Wooster Public Health Hero Award include State Representative Patricia Todd, the first openly gay elected official in the State of Alabama; American Electric Power, the Western Hemisphere’s largest burner of coal, for its strong and environmentally collaborative efforts to produce clean energy; the VF Corporation for its decision to rebuild the Wrangler Distribution Center in rural Hackleberg, Alabama, which was destroyed in the April 2013 tornados; and Angelou Ezeilo, Founder of the Greening Youth Foundation in Atlanta.

Updated January 12, 2017