She has advocated for health equity, worked with the American Heart Association to improve heart and brain health for Albany County residents, and has been a leader as Albany County officials faced the COIVD pandemic head-on.
In appreciation for improving the lives of Albany County residents, the American Heart Association is honoring Dr. Elizabeth Whalen, Commissioner of Health at the Albany County Department of Health, with the Donald Led Duke Heart Hero award at the Heart of the Capital Region Backyard Ball on Thursday, June 24, at 6 p.m. People can register for the digital event at https://event.gives/heartball518.
“Dr. Whalen has been a trusted voice throughout the pandemic,” said Jennifer Corcoran Conway, partner at Tully Rinckey and chair of the Capital Region Board of Directors of the American Heart Association. “At countless press conferences, she calmly presented facts and explained why it’s important that we act in a manner that would keep us safe. She played an enormous role in Albany County’s efforts to vaccinate residents, and we are all proud that, as of this minute, 74.4% of Albany County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID. Before the pandemic, Dr. Whalen supported our Go Red for Women movement and other health initiatives. Much of the Albany County Health Department’s work aligns perfectly with the mission of the American Heart Association. The Health Department has worked on tobacco cessation, reducing high blood pressure and creating more walkable parts of the County. We thank Dr. Whalen for all her work to improve the health of Albany County residents, and are honored to present the Donald Led Duke Heart Hero Award to her.”
Named for Donald Led Duke, founder of BBL Construction, who died suddenly of a heart attack, the Donald Led Duke Heart Hero Award honors a community member who has made the Capital Region a better place to live.
Dr. Whalen has been the Commissioner of Health for the Albany County Health Department since 2015. She was also a medical director at the county from 2003 – 2005; was a public health/preventive medicine resident at the New York State Department of Health/University at Albany; and a medical director for Medicaid at CDPHP.
“As my career grew, I discovered that public health is my passion,” Whalen said. “I love my job. It’s been a busy year, and COIVD has opened up a lot about public health, and what we do.”
Like the American Heart Association, Albany County is looking at inequities that COVID-19 exposed.
“Health equity is part of the County’s mission,” Dr. Whalen said. “Racism is also a public health pandemic, and we need to continue to address disparities, even when COVID has passed. I know the Backyard Ball has a focus on uncontrolled high blood pressure, which disproportionately affects people of color. We need to address this and continue to focus on cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which also affect different communities at different rates.”
Whalen, whose father is an Albany ophthalmologist, discovered that she wanted to be a doctor halfway through her college career. Born in Ireland and raised in Albany, she attended the National University of Ireland in Galway. She did her residency at Albany Medical College.
“I love the challenge of medicine, its intellectuality and the interaction with people,” she said. “I also love the number of different directions it can take. I’m proud of the work that everyone at the Albany County Department of Health has done, much of which we’ve done with the American Heart Association. Our Housing Authority is smoke free; we’ve worked to reduce vaping and flavored tobacco use, especially menthol, which is consumed at a high rate in communities of color; our self-monitoring blood pressure programs; and our focus on women’s heart health each Wear Red Day and during American Heart Month.”
Whalen plans to continue these initiatives, and seek ways to engage younger people throughout the county.
“We have a lot of work before us,” she said. “I’d like to look at how we use the Internet and engage community messengers, so that more people hear the message of good health. I’m honored to receive the Donald Led Duke Heart Hero award, and look forward to working with the American Heart Association on many more initiatives as we move forward.”
“Dr. Whalen and her staff have done an amazing job throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy. “I congratulate her on this recognition and her continued commitment to improve the health of all Albany County residents, with a focus on heart health.”
Whalen and her husband, Ophthalmologist Dr. Peter Duffy, live in Albany and have three children, Annabelle, Declan and Johanna.