AWS Public Sector Blog

Accelerating public health innovation with AWS Partners

Public health agencies are looking to modernize their infrastructure to make sure that their health solutions can scale equitably and reliably in any situation. Many governmental public health agencies across the US look to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and its culture of innovation and the AWS Partner Network to help them innovate quickly. The AWS Public Health Team helps these agencies envision an ideal solution through its Working Backwards process, which works backwards from the end customer’s need, to build a solution that meets public health’s unique needs and challenges. Then, AWS finds the right partner to build a proof-of-concept to demonstrate viability of the proposed solution.

Learn how AWS brought together three governmental public health agencies and partners to create scalable solutions that support public health.

Democratizing genomic sequencing analytics

The Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene (WSLH) wanted to address the question, “How do we scale genomic sequencing analytics capacity in public health laboratories without simultaneously expanding bioinformatics capacity?” WSLH brought this question to AWS, who identified AWS Partner Two Bulls/DEPT® to develop an open source, low-code solution that allows under-resourced laboratories to expand their genomic sequencing analytics capacity. Two Bulls/DEPT® is skilled at developing open source, intuitive websites and user interfaces. They also have experience developing solutions for government services, especially health-related services. AWS provided technical assistance and resources to develop Easy Genomics in collaboration with WSLH and Two Bulls/DEPT®. “I wanted to help public health laboratories do the kind of work I do—at scale. I’m excited to support other public health laboratories in expanding their sequencing capability through the use of this tool,” said Kelsey Florek, senior genomics and data scientist with WSLH.

Easy Genomics, a no-cost, open-source tool managed by Two Bulls/DEPT®, provides a simple interface for uploading genomic sequencing data to the cloud and running genomics pipelines via AWS Partner Seqera Lab’s NextFlow Tower APIs. Two Bulls/DEPT® founding partner, Evan Davey, said, “If the past few years taught us anything, it’s the importance of having access to the latest in genomic sequencing. Scaling access to straightforward genomic sequencing is the next logical step. The launch of Easy Genomics means public health labs that don’t have technical staff now have access to a tool that makes it simple to run genomic pipelines on their lab tests. That means communicable diseases like COVID-19 can have their variants far better tracked by public health authorities. We’re proud to be a key partner in this impactful project. Making it open source is the cherry on top.”

Modernizing disease surveillance

The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) was stuck. They wanted to replace their 12-year-old infectious disease surveillance system but felt that none of the existing solutions met their needs. IDPH reached out to the AWS Public Health Team because they wanted a technological solution paired with people who spoke their language and understood the public health landscape and its day-to-day challenges. Jeff Van Engelenhoven, chief information officer (CIO) of Iowa’s Department of Health and Human Services, said, “We could go to an organization and say, we want to build this. But the problem is that group—while happy to help us build something—isn’t coming in with a public health perspective. That’s why we were happy to find the AWS Public Health Team, because they have the real public health experience and expertise. They’ve been there.”

The AWS Public Health Team guided IDPH staff to create a vision of their ideal disease surveillance system using Amazon’s Working Backwards process. Working from IDPH’s vision, the team identified Strategic Solutions Group (SSG), which had an open source licensed solution that provided some of the functionality IDPH was looking for. SSG’s cloud-native Casetivity solution provides a low-code approach that allows users to simply modify the user interface and add, modify, or remove data elements as needed—all key features in a modern surveillance solution. SSG’s solution addressed other public health use cases aside from infectious disease surveillance, and required modification. Through a significant financial investment, AWS facilitated the initial development of a minimum viable product by SSG for IDPH. Jeff Van Engelenhoven stated, “Out of the gate, we felt a great deal of comfort that we made the right decision to work with AWS because they speak our language and understand what we’re dealing with.”

Providing families with simple access to nutritious meal delivery

Public Service Network (PSN), a media services company that works with governments and nonprofits, was working with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) to develop a nutrition and education website for SNAP beneficiaries. PSN first asked AWS for assistance in developing the website, and AWS connected them with AWS Partner MindGrub to build the SNAP Express website. “AWS has been a valued PSN Partner for the past three years, providing PSN with development support, from the early prototype stages to its recent launch, for the SNAP Express online shopping platform. Together, AWS and PSN, will be making a difference for underserved populations nationwide, by providing access to nutritious, low-cost food and simplifying the online shopping and meal preparation experience,” said Robert Gaudian, chief executive officer (CEO) of PSN.

The SNAP Express website provides SNAP beneficiaries access to nutritionist-recommended meal plans. Once a beneficiary selects their menu, items fill a grocery cart. The website then connects the beneficiary to a local grocery delivery service that participates in SNAP so the beneficiary can have their food delivered directly to their home. Once the website was running, the AWS Public Health Team also helped expand the grocer options by working with the Amazon Fresh team to make an API available so that the food items in the SNAP Express cart automatically populate the Amazon Fresh cart at the click of a button. This saves beneficiaries time and effort, while providing no cost delivery to EBT card users for deliveries over $35 ($50 in New York City). “Now that SNAP Express is operational with several national retail partners, AWS continues to support the program by assisting with site architecture, hosting, and business development. With AWS as a collaborator, the service is now poised to enter its next phase with the launch of an affiliate program targeting all 50 states with SNAP Express custom branded educational sites that will feature the use of the ‘AWS Single Tenant’ hosting solution,” said Suzanne Gaudian, chief operating officer of PSN.

Innovating in public health with AWS

In a time when public health agencies are looking to move beyond their current culture and try new and innovative things, AWS provides a unique balance of a vast partner network, a bias for action, and a drive for innovation. The AWS Public Health vertical team understands public health from working in and with governmental public health for decades.

AWS’s goal is to identify innovative, scalable, and sustainable solutions for public health. The AWS Public Health Team works with public health staff to understand the art of the possible, approach with user centered design, and innovate to create solutions that will help build public health data capacity for all jurisdictions. Connect with the AWS Public Health Team today at if you have questions or ideas on how to innovate in the cloud.

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Dr. Dawn Heisey-Grove

Dr. Dawn Heisey-Grove

Dr. Dawn Heisey-Grove is the public health analytics leader for the state and local government team at Amazon Web Services (AWS). In this role, she’s responsible for helping state and local public health agencies think creatively about how to address their analytics challenges and achieve their long-term goals. She’s spent her career finding new ways to use existing or new data to support public health surveillance and research. Before AWS, Dawn led a team at MITRE that developed a novel open-source solution that supports chronic disease surveillance through the creation of longitudinally-linked datasets sourced from clinical and non-clinical data across the community. While at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, she partnered with CDC to explore how electronic clinical quality measures could be used to generate national population-level estimates of hypertension. She also published national statistics on health IT adoption and use with a focus on rural health IT and public health data exchange. Dawn started her career as an infectious disease epidemiologist and public health informaticist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, where she was a leader in identifying new technological solutions to automate data capture, securely share data with clinical and local public health partners, and conduct analytics for infectious disease surveillance. Dawn has published over two dozen articles in leading public health, health policy, and health informatics journals. She has a B.S. in Microbiology from University of Maryland—College Park, a MPH in Epidemiology and Biostatistics from Boston University, and a PhD in Health Outcomes Research from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Betsy Baker

Betsy Baker

Betsy Baker is the public health transformation leader for the state and local government team at Amazon Web Services (AWS), focusing on innovative use cases in public health and healthcare. In this role, she engages with public healthcare agencies across the US to invent new ways to leverage technology to improve the constituent experience in government social programs, such as public health, Medicaid, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and to be more prepared to respond to public emergencies and meeting constituents where they are. Prior to AWS, Ms. Baker was a director of client services at a mid-market healthcare analytics firm, where she curated an analytics solution for Medicaid agencies to identify top spend on beneficiaries and link to clinical data to influence program frameworks. Ms. Baker holds her Masters in Public Health from the University of Colorado with an emphasis in health systems management and policy.