Wheeling – Dr. William Mercer attended the American Public Health Association meeting in Philadelphia in 2005 – when he first became interested in the homeless.
Between sessions, he took out his camera and headed to downtown Philadelphia, hoping to photograph the homeless in the community.
“I found this guy around a steaming pit,” Mercer said. “I took a picture of him, and in those days the camera made a big click. He jumped and ran and hit me.
That’s when I knew I needed to learn more about homelessness.
After 17 years, the AAAA will honor Mercer with one of its 12 annual awards for “Excellence in Public Health” at its upcoming meeting. The award will be presented on November 8 in Boston.
Mercer will receive the “Milton and Ruth Romer Award for Innovative Public Health Work,” which goes to a health care professional who implements innovative health care programs that can be replicated in other communities.
Mercer appreciates the “Joe Too Cool to Smoke” anti-smoking program in local schools; his efforts to stop smoking in Ohio County while serving as county health officer; and as the founder of Project Hope, a medical van service that travels to homeless shelters and camps to provide needed care.
Mercer said he was nominated for the award by two people. The first was Howard Gamble, administrator of the Ohio County Health Department.
The second peanut inventor was Jean Schulz, widow of Charles Schulz. Jean Schulz and Mercer had established a working relationship through Mercer’s “Joe’s Coolest Smoking Program.”
Among those who sent letters of support to Mercer were U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia; former US Surgeon General Richard Carmona; and former director of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Thomas Frieden. Frieden once came to Wheeling to promote Joe’s Coolest to Smoke program to kids at an event at the Wesbanco Arena.
Locally, representatives of Greater Wheeling Soup Kitchen, Wheeling Health Right, Wheeling Park High School were among those who sent letters to Mercer.
“It’s all humiliating,” Mercer said. “These people are just as involved (in providing public health programs) as I am. I think we all make a difference in children’s lives.