Meet the Faces Behind Alive! Maryland

Since its founding in 2020, the Alive! Maryland program has helped build capacity and expand the knowledge of the infectious disease and primary care workforce in the state of Maryland. 

Representing the tenets of “ALIVE,” which stands for Assess, Learn, Integrate, Visualize and Engage, Alive! Maryland prides itself on its work toward improving health outcomes across communities and counties in Maryland.

To commemorate the program and its work over the past three years, we spoke with two of the faces behind Alive! Maryland – Tawanna Davis, MA, who works on behalf of Infectious Disease Prevention and Health Services Bureau, MDH, and Melissa Kelley, EdD, CHES, who works on behalf of HealthHIV – about their backgrounds, their hopes for the future of Maryland’s healthcare workforce, and more. 

Read about their experiences below!

Tawanna Davis, MA – Division Chief, Capacity Building, Training, Technical Assistance and Social Marketing

Tawanna Davis Portrait

Tawanna Davis, MA, whose background includes efforts towards HIV and infectious disease prevention education, started her career in the late 1980s after a close friend of hers lost two sisters to HIV. The whispers and stigma surrounding their deaths led Davis to learn as much as she could about HIV prevention, including strategies to address stigma while studying for her master’s at South Carolina State University.

Eventually, she relocated to Maryland, where she joined the MDH AIDS Administration in 1998. She has been there ever since.

“I have had the opportunity to design, implement, and support many HIV and other STI prevention initiatives over the years, and have worked with many statewide partners,” Davis said. “One of my fond memories is when I founded the Maryland HIV Prevention Youth Summit in 2002 to offer a statewide platform for Maryland youth to [participate] in HIV and other STIs prevention education … Today the conference is known as the Sexual Health Youth Conference, which is hosted through the Baltimore Urban Institute.”

Alive! Maryland is one of many initiatives that she has worked on. She states that this program was launched in partnership with HealthHIV after the MDH Division for Capacity Building, Training, and Technical Assistance spent a number of years working on the development of a comprehensive, data-driven, and interactive web-based platform to better address the needs of their community partners and to supplement their work. 

“This could not have been possible without the partnership of HealthHIV, who brought Alive! Maryland to fruition,” Davis said. “Through this partnership, Alive! Maryland was very instrumental in propelling and sustaining the HIV and other infectious diseases primary care workforce with education and training offerings, including access to healthcare workforce data over the past three years … Alive! Maryland has become a one-stop touchpoint to education, information, and resources.”

Affirming that, in one word, she’d describe Alive! Maryland as “effective,” Davis cites the data-driven dashboard, which provides real-time data on the healthcare workforce’s needs and interests surrounding education and training, as one of the program’s greatest achievements.

One of the biggest lessons learned throughout the years is the need for and importance of effective customer service and effective communication among community partners.

“Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing and passionate individuals, especially our community partners, and it’s always very exciting to see when effective partnerships come to fruition,” Davis reflected. “While no single person can win this battle alone, sometimes it only takes one voice to change the trajectory of a situation that could impact another person’s life in a meaningful way.”

With the successes of the program in mind, she acknowledges that the work must continue, especially as it relates to the work being conducted by the Maryland HIV Planning Group Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE) efforts. She also hopes that the workforce will maintain access to needed education, training, and capacity building assistance (CBA) around clinical and non-clinical HIV, STIs, viral hepatitis, and harm reduction.

“Through rigorous input and HIV Planning Group/Core meetings led by the IDPHS Bureau’s director, Dr. Peter DeMartino, community partners, and other IDPHS Bureau colleagues, the Maryland Integrated Plan was developed with objectives and goals in Maryland to meet the needs of people living with, affected by, or made vulnerable to HIV,” Davis explained. “By implementing strategies outlined in the Maryland Integrated Plan and honoring data gleaned through Alive! Maryland workforce assessments as well as outcome data from other statewide assessments, we now have a comprehensive road map to follow to continue improving upon our efforts.”

Melissa Kelley, EdD, CHES – Director of Training at HealthHIV and Program Director for Alive! Maryland

Melissa Kelley Portrait

Melissa Kelley, EdD, CHES has 22 years of experience as a sexual health educator under her belt. Having done everything from outreach and capacity building to serving as a Health Educator for a university, she has always been involved in and had a passion for health across the board.

In 2020, she joined HealthHIV as the Senior Manager of Medical Education and was immediately granted the opportunity to work on the conception of Alive! Maryland. Now, she serves as the Director of Training at HealthHIV and as the Program Director for Alive! Maryland.

“Having played a few different roles within the education realm has given me the ability to think through how our training and our capacity building can be utilized by the people that it’s aimed towards,” Kelley said. “I feel like the Alive! Maryland program has been very thoughtful in its approach to really getting at what Maryland needs. It wasn’t just a program that we put together and said, ‘Here you go.’ We took the time to ask the questions and engage the community.”

Alive! Maryland, as the first-ever comprehensive capacity building initiative for the infectious disease and primary care workforce in the state of Maryland, already stands out among the masses. But Kelley cites the multidimensional approach to servicing the workforce as a key component that sets Alive! Maryland apart. 

“We have the ability to do such multidimensional opportunities for folks,” Kelley said. “We can engage one-on-one, we can engage in-person, we can engage with e-Learning, and I think that sets us apart. We offer people lots of variety.”

Proud of the fact that the programming has remained consistent from both HealthHIV and MDH, Kelley describes Alive! Maryland as a program that is “vivacious” with all hands on-deck.

“Every single person that works on Alive! Maryland is truly dedicated to doing this work. We have built a really strong team and strong support for the program, which is really important,” she said. “Our teams have worked well together and everyone is truly on the same train when it comes to being committed and dedicated to the work that we’re doing.”  

In terms of the program’s reach, she thinks that people will continue to recognize and look for Alive! Maryland – and she finds that really special. She cites the success of the Identifying and Addressing Implicit Biases in Healthcare Delivery as an example, which was approved to meet a new required state standard for providers. 

“That course alone has reached nearly 5,000 people,” said Kelley. “So I think that the impact will be long-lasting from the perspective that we provided quality opportunities for folks to increase their skills, increase their knowledge.”

She, too, hopes that the work will continue and that the workforce will continue remaining dedicated to the betterment of healthcare delivery in the state of Maryland.

“Capacity building, technical assistance, and training is so important to the healthcare workforce,” Kelley said. “Having opportunities that are free and accessible is so important.”