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Public Health Column for the Times-News

Let me introduce your health director

Published: Wednesday, May 7, 2014

By KIM HORTON
Health Department columnist

An introduction is important because it voices the name and an interesting fact or a common interest about a person to someone else. If done well, it should encourage conversation beyond the names and handshakes. In most cases, each wants to find out more about the other.

I think you’ll find that’s true with this introduction to your new health director, Steve Smith. I use the pronoun “your” because Mr. Smith is more than the health department’s health director. He’s Henderson County’s health director. And he wants to talk with you.

Interactions with people and community sectors are what interested Smith in making public health his career. Through various jobs in public health — as an environmental health specialist in Wake County to director of Stokes County Health Department and then Transylvania County — Smith realized that public health essentially boiled down to helping people, and he found that rewarding from both a personal and professional perspective.

He was well aware of our health department’s stellar reputation in the community and state when he applied for the position. And our reputation appealed to his desire to lead this department because his values aligned with the Board of Health’s strong vision for the department’s future. Smith wants you to know that his vision for our health department is nothing more than your vision, and he looks forward to discussing your expectations.

With 21 years of public health experience, Smith certainly brings an expertise that should influence department strategies. But he emphasizes that the only purpose of the county health department is to serve the public and meet community needs.

This includes good communication to clear up misperceptions, such as the belief that the health department is only involved in a few limited services such as immunizations and inspecting restaurants.

Smith believes that public health has to take responsibility for some of the confusion.

“We know we need to improve our communication strategies to relay value and return on investment. The vast array of public health services and programs creates the foundation for community health improvement,” he said. “Although many services like immunizations are targeted toward individuals or families, the true value is that immunizations reduce the communicable disease burden for the entire community.”

As health director at the Transylvania County Department of Public Health for the past 10 years, Smith focused on building community partnerships and collaborative models.

“Public health is not defined by just what the health department does,” he said. “Many community partners are required to ‘move the needle’ with health outcomes. Ongoing engagement with community partners in Henderson County will be essential to public health success.”

The primary challenge for our county, Smith said, will be adapting to a rapidly changing environment for health care and public health, given some of the major shifts with national health care reforms and state policy. Associated technology requirements will also create unique demands on the work force.

Smith emphasizes that even with these challenges, it will be important to remain focused on the health outcomes that benefit Henderson County, while navigating and managing the complex and dynamic demands associated with transformational change.

Smith has seen many changes in public health through the years, adding new responsibilities such as emergency preparedness; focusing more on outcomes and evidenced-based practices; integrating models of care for pregnancy care management and care coordination for children; engaging the public perspective via the community health assessment and community health improvement plans; and advancing information technology including electronic health records, disease surveillance systems, health alert network and the immunization registry.

But even with all the changes, the most satisfying aspect about working in public health for Smith is helping people achieve and sustain healthy productive lives. And he wants to remind us that even though he has the title of health director, he is just a down-to-earth person who experiences the trials and tribulations of daily life, just like all of us.

And like us, he has interests beyond public health. He enjoys spending time with his wife, Karen, and two children, Hannah, 17, and Caleb, 14, who keep him busy with extracurricular activities. He appreciates the outdoors along with hiking, camping, canoeing and fishing. For recreational sports, Smith plays racquetball and basketball.

One thing we do share in common is the desire for a healthy community, and Smith is committed to that goal. “I’m looking forward to my time in Henderson County. I simply want to make a positive difference for the community.


Kim Horton is the information and communications specialist at the Henderson County Department of Public Health. She can be reached at khorton@hendersoncountync.org. For further information about the Department of Public Health, please visit our website: http://www.hendersoncountync.org/health.

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Department of Public Health • 1200 Spartanburg Highway, Suite 100 • Hendersonville, NC 28792 • (828) 692-4223