Voices of AMCHP: Deborah Garneau, MA
February 01, 2024

Deborah Garneau is the Deputy Director of the Division of Community Health and Equity and Maternal and Child Health (MCH)/Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs (CYSHCN) Director at the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Her expertise includes aligning systems, addressing structural drivers of health, incorporating authentic community engagement in all phases of public health programs, and leading initiatives that strategically plan and monitor systems change with an equity lens. Prior to state service, Deborah worked as a mental health clinician and administrator within child welfare. [learn more]

As part of our Voices of AMCHP series, designed to highlight our dedicated Board members and their work, we invited Deborah to share some insights on her background, journey serving on AMCHP’s Board of Directors, and her advice to foster good partnerships that share and build power and amplify the voices of the people we serve.


What motivated you to join AMCHP’s Board of Directors?

I wanted to take the next step in leadership of MCH, and the AMCHP Board is the collective of MCH thought leaders on a regional and national level.

How do your background and experience contribute to your role as a Regional Director of AMCHP’s Board of Directors?

I have worked in MCH for over 35 years, first as a behavioral health clinician and then as a state public health policy professional. I work in the CYSHCN space specifically and MCH more broadly. I have a broad range of experiences and positions in MCH at the state and regional level. It is important to have experienced voices represented on the Board of Directors.

What led you to your current role at the Rhode Island Department of Health?

My first position at Rhode Island Department of Health was as Special Needs Chief. However, I have not worked exclusively with Special Needs in at least 15 years. I am the MCH and CYSHCN Director for Rhode Island. I have moved to several different positions within Rhode Island Department of Health including Health Equity Co-Director.

You mentioned that you have held a variety of roles at Rhode Island Department of Health, what role has been the most impactful and rewarding to you?

I took something impactful from each position. For example, I started my state service within the finance/contracting department. While I no longer work exclusively on the finance team, I know how to use the state purchasing system, develop and monitor contracts, and can train my staff accordingly. In my capacity as the Disability & Health Program Manager, I learned the value of engaging and highlighting the voice/perspective of families or people with lived experiences. Serving as the Health Equity Institute Co-Director under the direction of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott and Deputy Director Ana Novais changed the course of my career and has significantly impacted every aspect of my work.

How has your role on AMCHP’s Board of Directors contributed to your work at the Rhode Island Department of Health?

I have access to MCH thought leaders and AMCHP staff. I have learned AMCHP’s organizational structure so I can help my state and regional colleagues get answers and support. I have benefitted from AMCHP’s policy, race equity statements, and committees in advancing my programs.

What motivated you to start working in the MCH field?

I started in MCH due to a passion for access to behavioral health resources and have discovered along the way the significant disparities that exist by race, language, disability status, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. These inequities motivate me daily.

May you share with us your ‘why’ for working to support CYSHCN?

I am motivated by inequities in access and experience for Rhode Islanders. I feel a deep sense of obligation to make the system work for populations who are structurally disenfranchised by our state system.

Thinking about the 2024 AMCHP Annual Conference theme, Partnering with Purpose, what advice would you give other established MCH professionals like yourself to foster good partnerships that share and build power and amplify the voices of the people we serve?

To partner with the community, MCH state leaders need to practice cultural humility to lift other voices in systems change.

What changes are you excited to see in the maternal and child health field that support CYSHCN?

Focus on health equity and social drivers of health.

Seeing AMCHP’s strategic direction reflected in the strategic map, what are you most excited for our organization to potentially accomplish by 2027?

Invest in MCH workforce development, increase community partnerships, and incorporate anti-racism language in our mission/vision/priorities statements.