SUNDAY STORIES: MEET STELLA FOGLEMAN

Meet Stella Fogleman: Director of Emergency Preparedness and Response for L.A. County Public Health, and an overall amazing human being. We caught up with her recently to discuss her career and moments of hope and solitude among the challenges of this past year.

Q. Tell us a little about yourself; where you live, where you grew up and where you currently work?

A. I’m the daughter of loving, hardworking, Catholic parents who immigrated from the Philippines as newlyweds in 1970. I’m the middle child and only girl with two brothers—one five years older and one eight years younger than me. I grew up in Huntington Beach, CA in the ‘80s. As a kid, when I wasn’t in school, I spent a lot of time running with a small pack of girlfriends, riding bikes, making up dance routines, baking brownies, lounging in the sun, splashing around in cold ocean water--typical beachy, suburban youngster activities. Fast forward to today. I’m married with two kids, a 12-year-old daughter, Emily, and a 10-year-old son, Blaise. We live in Highland Park, which is a neighborhood of Los Angeles, northeast of Downtown L.A. (for folks who aren’t from L.A.!). We moved here three years ago; but my husband, Andrew, and I have lived in L.A. since we got married 19 years ago. I currently work as the Director of Emergency Preparedness and Response for L.A. County Public Health.

Q. How did you land your current position? Was it something you always wanted to do, or did you go to school with another career path in mind?

A. I had no idea that a job like mine even existed! My education, encouraging teachers and mentors, and a series of opportunities along my path led me to where I am now. I also waited tables while I was in school, which helped me learn how to remain calm and cheerful while performing multiple tasks under stress. After high school, I went to Orange Coast College and then on to nursing school at Cal State Long Beach, where I also eventually got my master’s degrees in nursing and in public health. In nursing school, you get to try out many different fields of healthcare. I liked something about each one. In my last year of nursing school, I worked as a technician in the cardiovascular intensive care unit at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach. After graduation, I got my first job as a registered nurse in pediatric care at Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach. I joined the Health Department in 2001 as a district public health nurse, visiting people and families in communities and helping contain the spread of contagious diseases. I also worked in Public Health’s Toxicology and Environmental Assessment program, which addresses environmental and chemical exposures. The division I oversee now was created after September 11, 2001 and the subsequent anthrax attacks. I started here as a unit manager working on community emergency preparedness projects. I have been the director of this division for about six years, now. Alongside other government agencies and organizations, we plan for and respond to all types of public health emergencies, like bioterrorism threats, chemical fires, extreme heat, and emerging diseases, like COVID-19.

Q. Working the past 8 months amidst the Covid-19 crisis must have been very stressful. Tell us how you like to unwind after a hard day.

A. Yes, indeed--this has been a stressful year for everyone! For many of us in public health, this has been the most far reaching, longest running emergency in the span of our careers. During the first few months of 2020, we worked extremely long hours, seven days a week, building up the needed systems to address the pandemic. But we have been trying to build balance and rest back into our schedules where possible, which is of course so important for health. When I can, I love walking our dog, Rosey, around our neighborhood in the evening, cooking, and having dinner at home with my family. Watching a movie while cuddling on the couch is up there on my list of favorite ways to unwind. On the weekends, we are known to bust out impromptu games of charades, karaoke, and dance parties.

Q. What are your favorite aspects about your job?  

A. I love the people and the variety of my job. I get to work with brilliant, dedicated professionals who came to public health from various fields, including medicine, epidemiology, public policy, law, social justice, communications, environmental health, and, as in my case, nursing. Every day is different, with a new opportunity to apply past lessons and learn new ones. 2020 has brought enormous challenges, heartbreaking events, and too many lives and livelihoods lost to COVID-19. As a team, we have been navigating these difficult times by working together and drawing from the diverse backgrounds and expertise we all bring to the table. I am continuously inspired by my amazing colleagues. They give me the courage and strength needed to keep focused and carry on.

Q. Name one thing you are grateful for this year.

A. It feels especially important to count our blessings every day this year. Since my work has been so intense, Andrew has been managing the kids’ online school schedules while he’s working from home. I’m so grateful for him! I’m also grateful for the chance to spend more quality time at home with my family. I do miss so many of my dear friends and extended family…but I’m making a list of fun ways to make up for lost time for when this is behind us.

Thank you for this chance to introduce myself to you. I wish you all love, health, and happiness!