She doesn’t ride a white horse or wear a badge, but Patty Hayes, R.N., M.N., is the closest thing King County has to a sheriff for health, trying to protect more than 2 million county residents. The director of Public Health–Seattle & King County since 2015, Hayes, along with her team, shields residents from the dangers of bad restaurant meals as well as 50 reportable illnesses, from tuberculosis and mumps to the less common Ebola and Zika viruses. Amid shrinking budgets, they tracked 5,500 people with reportable infectious diseases in 2016—a 63 percent increase from two years earlier.
Hayes is a beacon of calm in this turbulence, juggling each outbreak and preserving services for the neediest—including drug addicts and the homeless. The political threats to the federal health care law, and by extension, the Medicaid program in Washington, has added toxic uncertainty. “I find it unconscionable that if you map [health] by ZIP code, there are people whose lives are 20 years shorter than others,” she says. She’s fought for a program called Best Starts for Kids, which provides help for young children and their families to try to prevent health problems later in their lives. Hayes won awards in both 2014 and 2015 for her leadership. The 2014 award was from the Center for Women and Democracy. “I’m energized by the people I work with. I’m humbled every day,” she says.
Read about the rest of 2017's Most Influential Seattleites here.