April 4 through 8 was designated as National Public Health Week. The U.S. English dictionary defines public health as "the general health of a community and the practice and study of ways to preserve and improve it." It further states that public health includes health education, sanitation, control of diseases, and regulation of pollution. The American Heritage Dictionary gives a similar definition, "the science and practice of protecting and improving the health of a community, as by preventive medicine, health education, control of communicable diseases, application of sanitary measures, and monitoring of environmental hazards."
Yet, as a community, do we really know what public health is and what our local agencies do? Have you ever thought that each time you eat at a restaurant someone has inspected that business to make sure that food is prepared properly and is safe to consume? Has your family ever thought about swimming in a public pool and if any of your family will become ill following this outing? Do you wonder who will follow up if you are bitten by a stray dog or cat? Will the animal be tested for rabies or would you need to take a series of immunizations? What is the incidence of rabies in Washington County?
Is someone investigating an outbreak of meningitis or measles occurring in a daycare? Is someone checking to see if the students and their families receive the proper medication or immunizations to prevent further spread of disease? If a pandemic disease occurs, who will provide the information and work with the community in helping control its spread in the community?
How can you obtain a copy of a birth record from anywhere in the state of Ohio? Where are death certificates available?
These are just a few of the areas of public health in which the Washington County Health Department works every day. Among their responsibilities, our two sanitarians inspect restaurants and grocery stores, issue septic and water well permits, inspect manufactured home parks, recreational vehicle camps, swimming pools, and schools, investigate nuisance complaints, and investigate animal bites and prepare specimens for shipping to the state laboratory for testing.
The nursing staff of the Washington County Health Department currently consists of one full-time nurse and three part-time nurses, one of whom is assigned to the Washington County Career Center. They provide immunizations for children and adults of all ages, investigate all reports of infectious diseases, operate several clinics to serve children of Washington County, work with families of children with medical handicaps to obtain services, take blood pressures and provide blood sugar screenings at several satellite clinics throughout the county, and respond to all calls from the community related to health care needs.
Our health educator is funded through a Creating Healthy Communities grant and helps to coordinate programs and services on healthy life styles, workplace wellness programs, school health programs, and other prevention programs available to the community. The registrar issues birth and death certificates and also serves as the receptionist for the health department. The plumbing inspector is part-time and inspects commercial plumbing installations in Washington County including the city of Belpre. By having a county inspector, we have provided a local and timely service to contractors without the need to rely on state inspectors.
Additionally we have two staff members who work with community partners in disaster and emergency preparedness. One of these employees is dedicated to providing countywide services. The other is a regional coordinator who works with agencies in 11 counties. Both of these individuals are funded through a federal grant provided to Ohio through the Centers for Disease Control.
As has been mentioned in previous articles, the Washington County Health Department also provides the staffing for the Southeastern Ohio Dental Clinic.
Finally, we have dedicated clerical and fiscal support staff who keep the health department functioning. As health commissioner for Washington County, I can honestly say that I am proud of all the services we provide and the staff who perform those duties. Washington County is certainly fortunate to have these dedicated workers. For more information on the Washington County Health Department and to see the numbers of services provided in 2010, we invite you to visit our website at washco-ohhealth.org. Updates are also routinely added to our facebook page. A short video on public health is available on both sites. We would also like to hear from you about your health department experiences or if there are needed services that we should consider adding. Please let us know.
Kathleen Meckstroth is executive director of the Washington County Health Department, 342 Muskingum Drive, Marietta.