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Public Health Column for the Times-News

Under the umbrella of public health

Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2015

By KIMBERLY HORTON
Health Department columnist

This may not be on your radar this month, but for the health department April has always meant Public Health Month. Nationally most states celebrate Public Health Week, but North Carolina extends its festivities for the entire month. My guess for taking a month is that we have a lot to be proud of and a lot to share.

However, before we celebrate, I want to enlarge your definition of public health. Try to envision all the players in public health together under one large umbrella.

Of course the health department is there, but did you picture partners from the community? Did you include yourself? Public health's mission is to prevent, promote and protect. Yet it takes more than the health department to meet those goals. It also requires community partners and individuals huddled together thinking and sharing to make public health do what it's supposed to do.

Need some examples? Let's look at immunizations, emergency preparedness and tobacco cessation and substance abuse prevention.

Last fall the health department school nurses partnered with Henderson County Public Schools to offer flu vaccine to all students at 13 elementary schools. This initiative increased flu vaccinations overall by 19 percent and vaccinations of children with Medicaid and children without insurance by 66 percent. Because of the success of this initiative, health department school nurses will again work with the school system to offer flu vaccine this fall. But now it will be extended to all students in all grades at all public schools.

How does this affect you or the health of our community? The more children protected against the flu, the greater protection for all — even those not eligible to receive the vaccine, such as infants. The umbrella of protection grows bigger with this partnership.

And while I'm talking about vaccines, let me mention that effective July 1, there will be new vaccine requirements and changes to previous vaccine requirements for children entering kindergarten or seventh grade. North Carolina law requires all children in the state to receive certain immunizations for entry into North Carolina schools. This includes specific requirements for starting kindergarten and seventh grade.

Records are checked when your child enters school or child care. Yet I hope you go beyond the required immunizations for your family. Certain vaccines are required, but to be fully protected from vaccine-preventable diseases, children should receive all immunizations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccines to protect against the flu, meningitis, rotavirus and others are available.

Another partnership happened in March when staff from pediatric medical practices met with our immunization and communicable disease nurses and formed the Henderson County Immunization Coalition. With recent outbreaks in vaccine-preventable diseases (measles for example), the coalition wants to encourage vaccination at correct times in a child's life.

Their goals: improve immunization rates by eliminating barriers, share resources and collaborate to stop the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases. Don't miss their videos at Epic Theatres this month that promote immunizations for vaccine-preventable diseases.

Who are the members of this coalition? It's a great group of practices who care about keeping children safe in our community: Henderson County Department of Public Health, Hendersonville Pediatrics, Rainbow Pediatrics, Park Ridge Pediatrics and Blue Ridge Community Health Services at their two locations (Hendersonville Family Health Center, Blue Ridge Health Center).

Who else is under the umbrella? Would you have thought of emergency preparedness? It's a big part of public health and our partnerships include hospitals, Emergency Management, Emergency Medical Services, public schools, volunteers and many more. These partners meet regularly and train to be ready for any emergency from loss of power to an anthrax attack to mass casualties.

That sounds big, but you're a partner, too, if you've prepared an emergency kit for yourself and family. If you've not made a kit yet, get started by looking at the example in the display case at the main public library. Visit the Public Health Preparedness link on the health department's website for more tips. And don't forget to register for a free preparedness kit to be given away for Public Health Month. Send an email to our Preparedness Coordinator Terri Arrington at terria@hendersoncountync.org to register.

Most of you are aware that substance abuse, particularly prescription drugs, is a large problem in our county. Area high schools students are tackling this head-on this week with a campaign called “We Are Hope.” On Friday, April 3, at 11 a.m., banners signed by students who pledge to be substance-free will be hung from the Historic Courthouse.

They have owned this campaign with assistance from our partner Hope Rx, a coalition formed to prevent prescription drug overdoses and accidental deaths in Henderson County. You can partner in fighting this problem by keeping your meds locked up and by disposing of prescription drugs safely.

Don't forget you can use the medicine drop at the Sheriff's Department, 100 N. Grove St., Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for all your unwanted, unused and expired medication.

Policy change is another way to influence a community's health, and it deserves a spot under the umbrella. Last year our Board of Health worked with the Board of Commissioners to advance discussions of local tobacco use prevention policy. This collaboration resulted in commissioners making policy to prohibit all tobacco use in county buildings (except in specified areas). Recently commissioners also prohibited e-cigarettes in the public libraries. The Board of Health hopes to continue the conversation this year.

It may seem like I'm stretching the umbrella metaphor, yet the truth is that it does take many individuals and many partnerships to change our culture of health. But the good news is that it is happening. And that's the reason we celebrate Public Health Month.

Your vision for a healthier community is needed just as much as participation from community partners. What are your ideas that could positively influence our county's health? What can we work on together this year? Please let me know.

 


Kimberly Horton is the communications manager at the Henderson County Department of Public Health. She can be reached at khorton@hendersoncountync.org.

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