When Barry Smith first started, he thought he was going to be the guy sitting in the back, annoying everyone.
As a lawyer, Smith is a bit of a civil libertarian at heart, so he thought his time on the state's Board of Health would largely be spent shutting down ideas that trampled individual rights.
Instead, he found the board had a lot of sensitivity to individual rights. And he learned a key lesson of public health: If you're going to get something done, you have to educate people — and repeat yourself a lot until people listen.
Smith finished his nine-year term on the state's Board of Health on Tuesday. Smith, a health care lawyer in Tulsa, was a founding chairman of the Oklahoma Health Improvement Plan, a concerted effort to change Oklahoma's poor health outcomes.
Oklahoma has long ranked poorly among other states in its health outcomes, with some of the highest rates of obesity, diabetes and smoking in the nation. The plan was one of the board's first organized efforts to change that.
“A lot of the specific goals of the health improvement plan have not been implemented,” Smith said. “Most recently, the legislature again failed to pass legislation allowing communities to determine smoking laws.”
Another initiative that has stalled has been a move to ban texting while driving.
Seeing failed attempt after failed attempt at the state Capitol has turned Smith cynical about Oklahoma politics.
“I know that there are some just outstanding individuals out there, but I am disappointed that we don't seem to have more civil conversations about health care that don't become political,” he said.