Tennessee Valley's 2021 Remarkable Woman award recipient makes a difference through service

photo of Dr. Karen Landers

When Dr. Karen Landers began her public health career in July 1982 as health officer for the three counties of the Northwest Alabama Regional Health Department, she initially expressed her enthusiasm for helping others. In the succeeding decades, her passion for promoting, protecting and improving the health of Alabamians has been unfaltering.

Throughout Dr. Landers’ public health career, the pediatrician has worked in numerous public health programs that have benefitted both children and adults, such as infant mortality prevention, family health, passenger safety, breastfeeding education, immunization for vaccinepreventable diseases, emergency preparedness, and control of infectious disease outbreaks. She has educated and informed the public about a wide range of public health concerns including H1N1 influenza, HIV, Legionella, Ebola and Zika. During emergencies such as devastating and deadly tornadoes, ice storms and critical heat alerts, she has cooperated with others to mitigate injuries and loss of life.

One of her callings is worldwide in scope-tuberculosis control. In August 2018, she volunteered to take on a demanding yet highly rewarding mission to spend several weeks working with the TB+Leprosy Free Majuro Program in the Marshall Islands. She was selected from a large number of applicants to participate in direct patient care and consultation there. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention selected her as US TB Elimination Champion in 2020 and the Medical Advisory Council for Tuberculosis presented her the James H. Baker Exemplar Award in 2018.

All of these experiences helped prepare her for perhaps the greatest challenge in our lifetimes. The COVID-19 pandemic propelled Dr. Landers into a new and critical role through her position in Incident Command as the principal departmental COVID-19 news media spokesperson.

Beginning in January 2020, the scope and scale of the pandemic expanded rapidly. Without a pause, she provided information on contact tracing, isolation and quarantine, prevention methods, testing and vaccinations. In addition to treating COVID-19 patients and advising healthcare providers, Dr. Landers consistently responded to media requests from early morning until late night, seven days a week, to educate the public with the most up-to-date information on COVID-19. These inquiries have come from local, state, national and international media.

The volume of increased media contacts with thedepartment can be clearly verified. For many years, ADPH has subscribed to a video monitoring service which generally averaged 20 mentions of public health per day prepandemic. At the height of the pandemic in January, around 200 mentions of the department were made in a single day. Many of these interviews could be conducted because Dr. Landers made herself available through Zoom and FaceTime calls from her office or even her vehicle. She has also taken to the stage for news conferences and has allowed student reporters to conduct interviews.

When a reporter asked about her personal holiday plans last fall, she responded that she and her family have always served during holidays due to educational, military and career commitments because of the priority of service to others. In recognition of her service, the Nexstar Media Group and WHNT selected Dr. Landers as the 2021 Remarkable Woman from a field of more than 100 nominees.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said, “Dr. Landers is a dedicated and compassionate physician who brings a servant’s heart to her role as a public health medical officer. She is truly deserving of this recognition.”

An honorarium was provided, and Dr. Landers donated the award to the Still Serving Veterans charity. In a message of thanks for her contribution, the Still Serving Veterans President/CEO Paulette M. Risher, Major General, U.S. Army, Retired, praised Dr. Landers for demonstrating “professional competence and leadership - under some truly trying circumstances.”

Dr. Landers’ other professional honors in public health are almost too numerous to list. They include Award of Excellence, Alabama WIC Program, 2012; Special Recognition, American Academy of Pediatrics, Alabama Chapter, for response during and after tornadoes of April 27, 2011; Honorary Inductee, Alabama Environmental Health Association, 2010; CATCH the Dream 15 years, Alabama Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2009; Chapter Chairperson’s Award, Alabama Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics, 1999; Community Service Award, WIC Program, 1998; Guy M. Tate Award, 1990, Alabama Public Health Association, 1990; Outstanding Service Award, Mountain Lakes Chapter, Alabama Chapter March of Dimes, 1988.