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For the health of it; Public health benefits whole community

By Colleen Lehmann, DCHD public health liaison
When you hear the term public health, what do you picture? It’s understandable if all that comes to mind is COVID-19, as the virus has taken up the lion’s share of most healthcare providers’ time and energies for the past two-plus years. But before there was the COVID pandemic there was public health, busily and enthusiastically addressing all manner of health and safety issues.

So, aside from the COVID-related pursuits that consumed a majority of Douglas County Health Department’s attention and with precautions in place due to COVID, what else was DCHD doing last year? Our recently completed annual report offers a glimpse at the bigger picture.

Douglas County nursing staff worked with 217 households participating in the WIC (Women, Infants & Children) program, conducted 77 nail clinic appointments, did 19 lead screenings, the same number of TB skin tests, and helped facilitate nine diabetes support group meetings. They conducted and/ or helped facilitate approximately 86 COVID vaccination clinics. 

While COVID restrictions didn’t fully allow for them, other nursing services typically offered through DCHD include vision and hearing screenings, breastfeeding counseling and support, other women’s health issues, immunizations, and communicable disease surveillance.

The well-utilized Douglas County Dental Clinic had 2,889 encounters in 2021, and welcomed 1,006 new patients to its rolls. There were 1,086 adult cleanings, 1,640 child cleanings, 1,240 sealants done, 1,653 cavities filled, 130 dentures made, and 1,133 teeth extractions. 

There is a wide array of both preventative and restorative services available to income-qualified residents on a sliding fee scale, and Medicaid patients are welcome here. The dental department also travels to area Head Start programs and schools, as well as assisted living facilities, to provide some offsite dental care as well. 

On the environmental side, the department did a total of 326 inspections of varying kinds—including food establishments, septic systems, wells, tanning parlors, and tattoo/piercing parlors. While nine food permits were retired, that was offset by nine new permits being issued. There were 324 violations noted, and 113 gold/silver spoon designations awarded. Three food safety presentations were done, drawing 45 participants.

Those inspections serve a crucial purpose, helping business owners keep their customers, staff and ultimately their bottom line healthy and safe by identifying potential problems before they cause harm. The same holds true for well and septic reviews, which ensure these systems operate safely and effectively.

Community outreach grant programs made a substantial impact on a large number of households and individuals, even with COVID restrictions. The Summer Meals program  provides free lunches to Douglas County youths ages 18 and under during June and July. There were 54,725 meals served to 1,599 participants throughout the county in 2021. 

There were approximately 49 work hours spent on tobacco cessation assistance and education, along with medical marijuana enrollment help and education. Another grant aimed at helping reduce the number of accidental drug overdoses saw 156 adults receive opioid overdose training, and 276 vials of nasal Narcan were distributed to area first responders, businesses, and individuals. Eleven people were provided needle exchange kits through the SWAP harm reduction program.

You don’t have to be employed in public health to make a true difference in this sector. DCHD relied mightily on the kindness of scores of volunteers to help facilitate COVID testing and immunization clinics at the height of the pandemic. 

Want some other ideas on how to be a public health warrior? Join or start a community garden, volunteer at or donate to a food pantry to help those facing hunger issues. Offer a ride to folks unable to provide their own transportation to medical or dental appointments. Volunteer with the Douglas County Medical Reserve Corps and you will be helping ensure the health and safety of your community, whether as a health professional or in a non-medical role.  

Public health relies on partnerships and collaborations to maximize the impact of its services and outreach. As DCHD continues in its mission to protect and promote healthier lifestyles through prevention and education, we thank everyone who has joined us in making that possible for the residents and businesses of Douglas County.

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